The old image of Oscar Pistorius, as the triumphant athlete who defied his own physical impediments to compete on the world stage, slipped further from memory today (June 15). In a bid to avoid 15 years in jail for the murder of his girlfriend, Pistorius took off his prosthetic legs and walked around a South African courtroom on his amputated stumps.
Pistorius has been convicted and sentenced for the Valentine’s Day shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013. After a lengthy, televised trial the following year, during which his lawyers argued that he thought he was shooting an intruder, a judge found Pistorius guilty of manslaughter. The Supreme Court of Appeal overturned that decision and upgraded the conviction to murder, meaning a much harsher jail sentence. Pistorius exhausted his legal options when the Constitutional Court chose not to hear his appeal.
“I don’t want to overplay disability but the time has come that we must just look with different eyes,” his attorney Barry Roux said as Pistorius prepared to show his vulnerability. “I’m told he’s very embarrassed to do that, but he knows it’s important.”
Pistorius had swapped his black suit for a T-shirt and running shorts emblazoned with the logo of his former sponsor, Nike. The Paralympian who qualified for the Olympics was known as the Blade Runner for the specialized carbon-fiber prosthetics he competed in. Once the 15th-fastest man in the world, he ran a personal best of 45.07 in a 400-meter race in 2011.
In court on Wednesday, he walked gingerly across the courtroom floor, his face tense, his hands holding onto the wooden benches for support, his eyes barely leaving the floor. At 29, his hair has grown grey over the course of the legal proceedings.
“It was not the man winning gold medals that must be judged [but rather] a man standing on his stumps at 3 o’clock in the morning in the dark that must be judged,” Roux said. His attorney argued that the televised trial contributed to the public image of Pistorius as the face of gender-based violence.
Pistorius returned to the accused’s bench and wept. A day earlier, a psychologist testifying for the defense described Pistorius as a broken man, arguing for hospitalization instead of incarceration.
The prosecution, however, remained unswayed and argued for 15 years in jail for Pistorius. A day earlier, the victim’s father, Barry Steenkamp, testified for the state that he is continuously tormented by thoughts of his daughter’s last moments. The 73-year-old told the court that he turned to self-harm to imagine what she must have felt just before her death.
Pistorius shot the model and reality star through a toilet door four times, with one of the bullets shattering part of her skull. Pistorius already served one year of a five-year sentence for manslaughter, in the medical ward of a Pretoria prison, before being released to house arrest. Pistorius, who has been criticized for enjoying undue privilege during his criminal trial, is living in his uncle’s lavish home during the sentencing hearing. Court is adjourned until July 6.