July 05, 2016

SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) A South African judge is expected to announce Oscar Pistorius' new sentence on Wednesday, with the double-amputee Olympic runner facing a possible 15-year jail term after his conviction was changed to murder for shooting girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013.

The sentencing could be the final act in a legal drama that has rolled on for 3-and-a-half years and often fascinated the world with the fall from grace of a famous athlete who was once an inspiration to many.

Be warned, though, it still might not be over.

Both the prosecution and Pistorius' defense team have the opportunity to appeal any sentence handed down by Judge Thokozile Masipa.



Fifteen years in jail is the minimum sentence for murder in South Africa, which no longer has the death penalty. However, as always with Pistorius' dramatic case, nothing is certain. Judge Masipa could decide on a reduced sentence if she thinks there are compelling reasons to be lenient.

At his 2014 trial, Pistorius was acquitted of murder - by Masipa - and instead found guilty of culpable homicide, an unintentional but still negligent killing similar to manslaughter. Then, Masipa sentenced Pistorius to five years in prison. He was released to house arrest after serving one year.

But following an appeal by prosecutors to South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, Pistorius was convicted of the more serious charge of murder, leading to a new sentencing.



Hard to tell.

At the murder trial two years ago, Judge Masipa partly believed Pistorius' story that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in a bathroom in his home in the middle of the night. He claimed he shot four times through a toilet cubicle door in fear for his life, only realizing afterward that it was Steenkamp. Masipa's original verdict of manslaughter was overruled by the Supreme Court last year, and Masipa must now sentence the 29-year-old Pistorius again, this time for the crime of murder.

At a sentencing hearing last month, prosecutors asked Masipa to sentence Pistorius to at least 15 years in prison. The prosecution has hinted it is unlikely to accept anything less than an eight-year sentence for the multiple Paralympic champion.

Pistorius' defense argued there are compelling circumstances in Pistorius' case that warrant a reduced sentence, and even no jail time: Chief defense lawyer Barry Roux said that Pistorius is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the killing and also that his disability and fame will put him in danger in jail. At last month's sentencing hearing, Pistorius removed his prosthetic legs and hobbled across the courtroom floor on his stumps in an attempt by his lawyers to show how vulnerable he is. Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel labelled the demonstration a desperate attempt to gain sympathy.



Pistorius gave an interview to a British television station shortly before his sentencing hearing, giving prosecutors another opportunity to criticize him. They said his decision to talk to the media and yet decline to testify at his sentencing hearing showed disrespect to the court and Judge Masipa. Masipa, herself a former journalist, might frown on Pistorius' television appearance with his case not yet completed.

In the interview, Pistorius said he wanted to be given the opportunity to do charity work instead of being sent to jail, and that Steenkamp would not have wanted him to go to prison. Prosecutors contrasted Pistorius' decision not to testify at the hearings with Steenkamp's 73-year-old father, Barry, who battled his emotions in court as he testified how he had been devastated by the loss of his daughter. Barry Steenkamp, who wept and whose hands shook during his testimony, said Pistorius should pay for what he did.



It's possible, especially if Pistorius is given what prosecutors view as a lenient punishment.

If Pistorius is given a long prison sentence, his chances of an appeal may depend on his finances. Pistorius has no more money following a long and costly legal battle, his family lawyer says.

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