South African track star Oscar Pistorius returned to court Wednesday, for the third day of his sentencing hearing which will determine if the athlete goes to prison for killing his girlfriend in February last year. His defense team has aggressively pushed for house arrest rather than jail time. Defense witnesses have argued that the Olympian has shown remorse, suffered a loss of income and reputation, leaving him a “broken man." The prosecution began questioning its witnesses Wednesday afternoon.
Reeva Steenkamp’s cousin wept as she painfully recalled the moments she learned of her cousin’s death, describing it as the “end of the world." On her way to work at the time, Martin and her husband initially heard the breaking news on their car radio.
The family members of Reeva Steenkamp react as the verdict is handed down, Sept. 12, 2014.
“Then he said: Oscar Pistorius… and the minute he said his name I jumped in the front seat and I froze. And the next words were: has shot his girlfriend. And I said to my husband, I hope to god he’s cheating on Reeva,” Martin told the court sobbing.
Kim Martin told Judge Thokozile Masipa about the close relationship she had with Reeva. Father Barry Steenkamp, broke down in tears as prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned Martin, the state’s first witness, about their idyllic childhood together and the financial hardships the family faced.
Oscar Pistorius sat with his head in his hands as Martin told the court about the devastating consequences of Steenkamp’s death.
"It's ruined our whole family. It's ruined Auntie June and Uncle Barry. Reeva was everything to them,” she said, adding, “I must be Reeva’s voice. I had to do this for Reeva, I owe it to her.”
Up 10 15 years jail time
Pistorius faces up to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of culpable homicide -- South Africa's version of negligent killing -- although Judge Masipa may suspend the sentence or impose a fine. The prosecution team will underscore the tragedy of Steenkamp’s killing as they present their witnesses; drawing people’s gaze towards the suffering of her family and friends.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutor Nel resumed his relentless cross-examination of the final defense witness, social worker Annette Vergeer -- the second to recommend that Pistorius be sentenced to three years house arrest and community service rather than a jail term.
Vergeer, who is paid by the defense team, said on Tuesday that she believed that Pistorius would be “broken as a person” if jailed, arguing the country’s prisons were ill-equipped to deal with disabled inmates. The sprinter, whose lower legs were amputated as a baby, is dubbed the "blade runner" because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses to run.
Nel told the court on Wednesday that 128 disabled prisoners had been admitted to jail every year for the past decade. The state prosecutor said her report was peppered with “sweeping generalizations” and tried to undermine her testimony by exposing gaps in the social worker’s knowledge about correctional services.
"You have a view of what happens in prison - but it is not verified and that is worrying. Why don't you verify before you give evidence in a high court?” said Nel. “Your report has no fact, you are biased against any form of imprisonment."
Monthly payments to Steenkamp's family
It was during the cross-examination of Vergeer on Tuesday that Pistorius's offer of a lump sum of $34,000 to the Steenkamp family was revealed and that the Steenkamp's had received monthly payments from the athlete from March 2013 for 18 months, as they faced “financial difficulties."
A statement released on Wednesday from the family Advocate Dup De Bruyn said they were “quite surprised” details of the payments had been revealed. The Steenkamp family has said it will pay every cent back.
Court adjourned for the day following the decision that Martin was too emotional to be cross-examined by Pistorius’s defense team, who will continue tomorrow. The prosecution is expected to call an additional three witnesses.