PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — There are misconceptions over Oscar Pistorius’ murder conviction, his chief defense lawyer said Wednesday, calling them “enemies” of the case as he asked a judge for leniency for the double-amputee athlete, who is facing a 15-year jail sentence for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux was presenting his final arguments to Judge Thokozile Masipa at Pistorius’ re-sentencing hearing and said “substantial and compelling circumstances” existed that would allow the judge to deviate from the minimum term of 15 years in prison for murder in South Africa.
Roux’s plea to Judge Masipa followed the testimony of the final witness at the hearing, a cousin of Steenkamp, who accused Pistorius himself of not giving the “true version” of the shooting.
The cousin, Kim Martin, also criticized Pistorius for not testifying at this week’s sentencing hearing but agreeing to a television interview that will be broadcast after the hearing ends.
“I think it’s very unfair to want to talk to the world about your version when you had the opportunity in court to do so,” Martin said under questioning from chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
Pistorius, who was present in court, is currently living under house arrest after initially serving one year of a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter for shooting Steenkamp multiple times in 2013. That conviction was overturned last year by an appeals court, which convicted Pistorius of the more serious charge of murder.
But Roux said there were “serious enemies” of Pistorius’ case and listed what he said were misconceptions that still existed about the shooting and the Supreme Court of Appeal’s decision last year to change Pistorius’ conviction to murder.
Roux said the first misconception was that people believed Pistorius was convicted of murder for intentionally killing Steenkamp when he shot her through a toilet cubicle door in his home. The Supreme Court found Pistorius guilty of murder in that he realized that someone might die as a result of his actions and went ahead anyway. The ruling didn’t say that Pistorius knew it was Steenkamp — and not an intruder, as he claimed he thought it was — behind the door.
Roux also said it was not the “strong, ambitious” Pistorius, the history-making Olympic runner and multiple Paralympic champion, who fired four shots that night. Rather, it was a disabled man standing on his stumps and in fear for his life, Roux argued.
“It was not the man winning gold medals that must be judged,” the defense lawyer said. “It is common cause it is a 1.85-meter man standing on his stumps at 3 o’clock in the morning in the dark that must be judged.”
Later, Roux said: “They want to see Oscar Pistorius running to the bathroom with his gold medal around his neck.”
The “emotions” of the trial had also clouded some facts, Roux argued, including that the prosecution’s allegation that there was a loud fight between Pistorius and Steenkamp before he shot his girlfriend had never been proved.
As Roux spoke about the shooting, Pistorius hunched over in the courtroom and held his head in his hands. At other times, he sat up straight on his wooden bench.
Roux referred to another well-known case in South Africa, where a rugby player shot and killed his daughter by mistake thinking she was a criminal trying to steal his car in the early hours of the morning. The rugby player, Rudi Visagie, was not prosecuted for the shooting. Roux appeared to be arguing that Pistorius should also be treated with similar leniency.
Judge Masipa, who initially acquitted Pistorius of murder before her decision was overturned, will also decide the new sentence. The hearing is scheduled to run through Friday this week. South Africa’s minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for murder can be reduced in some circumstances.
While prosecutors are seeking a long jail term for the 29-year-old Pistorius, his defense has argued that he should be spared prison and allowed to do community work with children.
In her testimony, Martin, Steenkamp’s cousin, said she and her family are struggling to cope with Steenkamp’s death and that every Valentine’s Day — the day when Steenkamp was fatally shot — is the “worst day for us.”
Martin said her family lights a candle for Steenkamp, a model, at Christmas and that they try to celebrate such special days despite the grief.
“We don’t want every occasion to become a funeral,” she said.
Martin also questioned Pistorius’ statement that he killed Steenkamp by mistake thinking an intruder was in the house.
“All we’ve ever wanted is the truth,” Martin said. “People say we’ve got the truth, but we didn’t. Oscar’s version has changed so many times. I don’t feel the true version came out.”
Imray reported from Somerset West, South Africa.