Paralympic gold medalist Oscar Pistorius appeared in a South African court on Monday to be sentenced for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The 29-year-old, known as “Blade Runner” for the carbon-fibre prosthetic blades he used to race, faces a minimum 15-year jail sentence and cannot appeal after the country’s top court ruled in March that he had exhausted all his legal options.
The case has prompted a fierce debate in a country beset by high levels of violent crime. Some rights groups have said the white athlete got preferential treatment.
Pistorius, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, initially received a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, South Africa’s equivalent of manslaughter. The conviction was later upgraded to murder after an appeal heard by the Supreme Court.
Original trial judge Thokozile Masipa started hearing pre-sentencing arguments at Pretoria High Court, with Pistorius expected to discover his fate by the end of the week.
Dressed in a black suit, Pistorius appeared distraught and someone from his team passed him a packet of tissues and water.
“Currently my opinion is, he is not able to testify, his condition is severe,” Professor Jonathan Scholtz, a psychologist called by Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux, told the hearing that was attended by Steenkamp’s mother June.
Outside the court, a group of people held up placards backing the athlete, one of them with the message: “Worldwide supporters of Oscar Pistorius”.
He was released from prison in October after almost a year behind bars and allowed to serve out his term under house arrest on his uncle’s property in a suburb of Pretoria.
Pistorius denies deliberately killing model and law graduate Steenkamp, saying he mistook her for an intruder when he fired four shots through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home.
Pistorius reached the pinnacle of his fame in London 2012 when he became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, reaching the 400-metres semi-finals.