PRETORIA, December 10- A South African judge on Wednesday cleared the way for prosecutors to seek a murder conviction against Oscar Pistorius, after he was sentenced to five years in jail for the lesser charge of manslaughter over the killing of his girlfriend.
Prosecutors welcomed the decision, which could see the disgraced former Paralympian star sprinter receive a 15-year jail sentence.
“Our argument was that he should have been convicted of murder, and then would have been sentenced to a minimum sentence of 15 years. That is of course what we would like to happen,” said the National Prosecuting Authority’s Nathi Ncube.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who was the original trial judge, said: “I cannot say … that the prospect of success at the Supreme Court of Appeal is remote.
“I am also of the view … this might have a practical effect. The application therefore … is decided in favour of the applicant.”
The Supreme Court of Appeal will now review Judge Masipa’s application of the law during the trial and decide whether Pistorius is guilty of murder.
Masipa refused leave to appeal against the five-year sentence for culpable homicide that she imposed on Pistorius.
“The application for leave to appeal against the sentence is dismissed.”
If found guilty of murder, however, he would likely receive a much harsher sentence.
Pistorius said he shot Reeva Steenkamp four times through a locked toilet door on Valentine’s Day 2013 in the belief she was an intruder.
Prosecutors argued that he deliberately killed her after an argument.
Masipa found him guilty of culpable homicide, also known as manslaughter, and sentenced him to five years in jail, meaning that the 28-year-old could have ended up spending only 10 months of his jail term at Pretoria’s central prison.
The athlete’s father, Henke Pistorius, told AFP outside the court: “It should not have gone this far.”
– ‘Oscar is strong’ –
But, he added: “Oscar is strong, he’s strong, he has to be strong, he grew up like that. There’s lots of things in life, especially for a man like him that is not fair.”
Legal experts welcomed the ruling.
‘There is an appeal, and that is a good thing,” said Martin Hood, a criminal lawyer based in Johannesburg.
“A higher court can look at the case in its totality.
“If the conviction is changed to murder then obviously the sentence will fall away and there will be a new harsher sentence,” said Hood.
“It’s anything between 15 to 25 years, but it’s up to the court’s discretion, there is no minimum.”
Pistorius, who celebrated his 28th birthday last month, has been serving his sentence in a Pretoria prison.
Due to his physical disability, double amputee Pistorius is being held in the hospital ward of the prison, shielding him from the often brutal overcrowded cells, known for gang violence.
“He’s encountering many beautiful stories from prisoners. There are people there who have committed crimes but whose lives have changed,” said his older brother Carl, in an interview with You magazine, a South African tabloid.
Pistorius has been accused of receiving special treatment in South Africa’s notoriously corrupt prisons, where there is frequent reports of inmates using cellphones and even drinking alcohol behind bars.
Yet Carl dismissed claims his brother is living the good life, saying Pistorius relies on weekly 45-minute visits with his family to leave cash at the canteen so he can supplement his standard prison diet with tasty snacks, including baked beans and canned pilchards.
“He now lives moment by moment,” said Carl. “There’s no fairytale.”