PRETORIA, December 9- A South African judge on Tuesday delayed a ruling on whether to allow the prosecution to appeal against Oscar Pistorius’s five-year prison sentence for killing his girlfriend, saying she needed more time.
After listening to arguments from the prosecution and the defence, judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned the hearing until Wednesday, saying: “I want to think about it.”
Prosecutors described the five-term for manslaughter imposed on the Paralympic star in October as “shockingly inappropriate,” as they sought to open the door to a tougher sentence.
The double-amputee athlete, who is serving his sentence in a Pretoria prison over the killing of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013, was not in court on Tuesday.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Masipa had misinterpreted the law when she ruled at the end of a sensational trial watched around the world that Pistorius did not intentionally shoot his 29-year-old model girlfriend.
“The precedent set by this court is shockingly low,” said Nel.
Legal experts and sources involved in the case say they expect Masipa to allow the appeal to go ahead, opening the way for Pistorius to possibly face a tougher murder charge.
Pistorius admitted shooting Steenkamp four times with hollow point bullets through a locked toilet door at his upmarket Pretoria home but told his trial he thought she was an intruder.
Masipa found him guilty in September of culpable homicide, also known as manslaughter, and later sentenced him to five years in jail.
Under South African law he could end up serving just 10 months of his jail term at Pretoria’s central prison.
– ‘Too much controversy’ –
Defence lawyer Barry Roux argued that the sentence against the 28-year-old Pistorius was just.
“It’s incorrect to say it’s a light sentence, it’s not,” said Roux. “What we’re actually dealing with is an academic debate.”
Experts said they expect Masipa to give the state a “lashing” about their handling of the case, before sending the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, the country’s judicial capital.
“I honestly don’t think that Masipa would refuse leave to appeal, there’s just too much controversy about the judgement,” said Martin Hood, a criminal lawyer based in Johannesburg.
“It doesn’t matter what the outcome of the appeal is, if the appeal is allowed then other judges will be able to comment on the decision, and that’s critical,” said Hood, who has been following the Pistorius case throughout the year.
If Masipa refuses to grant the appeal, the state can petition a higher court, a common legal strategy in South Africa.
Hood said that with the decision of a Cape Town court on Monday to throw out the Shrien Dewani case — another high-profile murder trial involving a beautiful young woman killed in the dead of night — South Africa’s courts need to demonstrate they are rigorous and fair.
“From a perception point of view, both public and internationally, we need to tell everybody that we have a robust and effective legal system,” he said.
Pistorius, who celebrated his 28th birthday last month, has been accused of receiving special treatment in South Africa’s notoriously corrupt prisons, where there are frequent reports of inmates using cellphones and even drinking alcohol.
“He’s encountering many beautiful stories from prisoners. There are people there who have committed crimes but whose lives have changed,” his older brother Carl said in an interview with You magazine, a South African tabloid.
Carl dismissed claims his brother — who became an inspiration to millions as the first double-amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the London 2012 Olympics — is living the good life.
He said 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.”