World

Oscar Pistorius to face second chance at parole after nearly a decade in jail

Oscar Pistorius was wrongly ruled to be ineligible for early release in March and will face a second parole hearing this week (Alon Skuy/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Oscar Pistorius was wrongly ruled to be ineligible for early release in March and will face a second parole hearing this week (Alon Skuy/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Oscar Pistorius will have a second chance at parole at a hearing on Friday after he was wrongly ruled ineligible for early release from prison in March.

South Africa’s department of corrections said in a statement that a parole board will consider the former Paralympian runner’s case again this week and decide “whether the inmate is suitable or not for social integration”.

Pistorius, a world-famous double-amputee athlete who broke barriers by competing on carbon-fibre running blades at the 2012 London Olympics, has been in prison since late 2014 for the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius Parole Hearing
Oscar Pistorius was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, File)

He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, an offence comparable to manslaughter, for shooting Steenkamp multiple times through a closed toilet cubicle door in his home in the South African capital, Pretoria, in the predawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

His conviction was upgraded to murder and he was sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison after a series of appeals by prosecutors.

Serious offenders in South Africa must serve at least half their sentence before they are eligible for parole.

Pistorius’ case and his parole eligibility have been complicated by those appeals by prosecutors, who first challenged his culpable homicide conviction and then a sentence of six years for murder, which they called shockingly lenient.

The Supreme Court of Appeal eventually ruled in 2017 that Pistorius should serve South Africa’s minimum sentence of 15 years for murder, but took into account the year and seven months he had already served for culpable homicide when it delivered the 13 years and five months sentence.

However, the court made an error by not counting another period Pistorius had served while his murder sentence was being appealed, meaning he was in fact eligible for parole in March when he was told at his first hearing that he would only be eligible in August 2024.

Pistorius’ lawyers took his case to the country’s apex Constitutional Court and the decision to give Pistorius another parole hearing on Friday is seen as effectively an admission of the appeal court’s error.

Pistorius is not guaranteed to be granted early release.

The parole board takes a number of factors into account, including his conduct and disciplinary record in prison, his mental health and the likelihood of him committing another crime.

He could be released on full parole or placed on day parole, where he would be allowed to live and work in the community but have to return to prison at night.

Pistorius was once one of the world’s most admired athletes and one of sports’ most heart-warming stories.

He was born with a congenital condition that led to his legs being amputated below the knee when he was a baby, but he took up track and won multiple Paralympic titles on his running blades.

He is the only double amputee to run at the Olympics.

Known as the “Blade Runner”, he was at the height of his fame when he killed Steenkamp months after the London Olympics.

At his murder trial, he claimed he shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by mistake with his licensed 9mm pistol because he believed she was a dangerous intruder hiding in his bathroom in the middle of the night.

Pistorius will turn 37 on Wednesday and has not been seen for nearly a decade, although there have been occasional glimpses of his time in prison.

He sustained an injury in an altercation with another inmate over a prison telephone in 2017.

A year earlier, he received treatment for injuries to his wrists, which his family denied were a result of him harming himself and said were caused by him falling in his cell.