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Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison


South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, center, enters a police van after his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Oct. 21, 2014.
South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius, center, enters a police van after his sentencing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Oct. 21, 2014.

Oscar Pistorius has been taken from Pretoria High Court to a nearby prison, where he will begin serving a five-year sentence for fatally shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Earlier Tuesday, South African Judge Thokozile Masipa had sentenced Pistorius to five years in prison for Steenkamp's death.

The famed South African runner was taken by police van Tuesday to the Kgosi Mampuru Prison, where he will be placed in the hospital wing.

Masipa took more than an hour to announce her verdict in Pretoria, in a sentence that is dividing opinion in a nation that has been riveted by his nearly seven-month trial.

Pistorius' legal team said after the ruling they expect Pistorius will serve about 10 months in prison before completing his time under house arrest.

Under South African law, he must serve at least one-sixth of his sentence - in this case, about 10 months - before he can be considered for parole.

10-year sentence sought

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel had pushed for a 10-year prison sentence, while the defense argued for house arrest and community service because they felt the double-amputee would face difficulties in prison.

Masipa said she is "satisfied" the corrections department is equipped to handle inmates with special needs, and described her verdict as "fair and just, both to society and to the accused."

"Hopefully this judgment and sentence shall provide some sort of closure for the family and for all concerned so that they can move on with their lives. There is a delicate balance between the crime, the criminal and the interests of society," Masipa said.

"The extent of negligence in culpable homicide cases plays an important role in coming to an appropriate sentence which should neither be too severe or too light," she added.

Pistorius was immediately whisked to a holding area after sentencing Tuesday.

According to adjunct professor Stephen Tuson at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa allows a person sent directly to prison on a sentence of not more than five years to apply for a portion of that time to be converted to house arrest.

Culpable homicide

Pistorius was convicted last month of culpable homicide - roughly equivalent to the American charge of manslaughter - for shooting Steenkamp at his home in February 2013.

He said he mistook her for a nighttime intruder and shot her dead through a locked bathroom door because he feared for his life.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Mncube would not say whether the state will appeal.

"Of course, as we have stated before, we are disappointed with the conviction of culpable homicide. We still maintain the same position. We have noted also the sentence that was delivered today," Mncube said.

"We have not made up our minds whether we are going to appeal it or not. We are going to ... go and consider, because it is not a very straightforward matter. There is law that needs to be considered. There is an appetite for the need to appeal, but as I said, we have 14 days to consider," Mncube added.

The Olympian faced a more serious charge of murder, but Masipa ruled that prosecutors did not prove he intentionally shot Steenkamp.

The judge also gave Pistorius a three-year suspended sentence Tuesday for a firearms charge in the case, which will run concurrently with the sentence for culpable homicide.

As during the trial, the families of both Pistorius and Steenkamp were present Tuesday, sitting on benches on opposite sides of the courtroom.

Reeva Steenkamp’s mother, June, left the court, indicating to local reporters she thought justice had been served.

However, the women's league of the ruling African National Congress, which has been a constant presence alongside Steenkamp's family in court, said in a statement that they are dissatisfied with the result.

Women's league

The group has protested since the beginning of Pistorius' case and claims Steenkamp's death is yet another case of South Africa's epidemic of domestic abuse. But such claims were never proven in court.

Women's League spokeswoman Jacqui Mofokeng said the group is seeking an appeal.

"We are not happy with the verdict, and we are not happy with the sentence. Because this is sending a very, very wrong message out there," Mofokeng said.

"We have people with disability, and they have been sentenced before, and it cannot change anything. ... We are not happy with even culpable homicide, that's what we wanted. And when we go for an appeal, we are calling that he gets sentenced to murder. The charge should be murder and nothing else," she said.

The trial, which has riveted South Africa, is the first major criminal trial in the country to be broadcast live.

Judge Masipa acknowledged the case is unusual and has been affected by Pistorius' international fame, but she said that did not affect her judgment.

"I might add," she said, "that it would be a sad day for this country if there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged, and another for the rich and famous."

Pistorius is known as the "blade runner" for his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. He became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics when he ran at the 2012 games in London.

The International Paralymic Committee said Pistorius would be banned from the Paralymics for his entire five-year jail term.

Anita Powell contributed to this report from Pretoria, South Africa.

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