News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
2 Dec 2017
5:27 am

The judge and ‘poor Oscar’…

William Saunderson-Meyer

High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa’s celebrity dazzle blinded her to the finer points of the law in the Oscar Pistorius case.

Oscar Pistorius cries while seated in the dock during the verdict in his murder trial in Pretoria, 11 September 2014. Picture: Kim Ludbrook/EPA/Pool

Last Wednesday was Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’ 31st birthday.

His gift from the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) reached him belatedly on Friday.

It was a judgment which more than doubled his jail sentence for the 2013 Valentine’s Day murder of Reeva Steenkamp.

The court handed down the minimum 15-year sentence prescribed for murder, then subtracted the jail time Pistorius had already served.

The parakiller could have been released on parole in mid-2019.

Now, the earliest he will be eligible for parole is 2023.

Pistorius was not in court for the SCA decision, so one can only speculate about his mental state as he comes to terms with spending some of the best years of his life between bars.

Certainly, the judgment effectively nips in the bud any hopes he might have had of resuscitating his athletics career.

But there is also chagrin aplenty for another high-profile person.

High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa, whose every important ruling in the Pistorius case has at some stage been reversed on appeal, must now surely share Pistorius’ bleak career prospects.

Masipa initially found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide.

Despite describing Pistorius as a “very poor, evasive” witness, she gave him the ludicrously light sentence of five years.

Masipa went on to compound her leniency by allowing part of the sentence to be served under correctional supervision.

After a mere 10 months in prison, Pistorius was released and put under house arrest.

Masipa’s celebrity dazzle also blinded her to the finer points of the law. Although she had refused the state’s bid to appeal the sentence, she did allow their appeal on conviction.

In 2016, the SCA ruled in favour of the state and the culpable homicide finding was replaced with a murder conviction.

This meant Masipa had to fashion a new sentence.

Given a chance to rescue herself from the hole she had dug, Masipa just dug deeper. A murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Despite the fact that Pistorius failed to give evidence, Masipa decided that there were indeed “substantial and compelling circumstances” justifying a lesser sentence.

The Pistorius whom she describes in her judgment is not the selfish, reckless man of the evidence.

He is, rather, the agonised protagonist in a Shakespearean tragedy.

“He is,” she gushed, “a fallen hero … He has lost his career … The worst is that, having taken the life of a fellow human being … he cannot be at peace.” Pistorius, she said, had also made the “noble gesture” of doing community work as punishment.

All of this justified a sentence of six years’ imprisonment, which was so legally sound, in her view, that she refused the state leave to appeal.

The SCA, however, shattered all Masipa’s assumptions.

First, it overturned her ruling on the appeal against this bizarre sentence and agreed to hear the state’s bid.

And now it has blown that sentence out of the water. At one stage, Pistorius said that he was certain Reeva would not have wanted him to waste his life behind bars.

In a way, he is getting his wish. In about six years and eight months, the Blade Runner will again slide into society.

As for Masipa? Well, it will be interesting to see what cases she presides over after this monumental series of cockups.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

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