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Pistorius Sentenced To Five Years In Prison For Culpable Homicide

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In a courtroom in Pretoria, South Africa today, track star Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOKOZILE MASIPA: Mr. Pistorius, please rise.

CORNISH: The former Olympian was found guilty last month of culpable homicide for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He shot her last year through the closed door of his bathroom. Pistorius claimed he thought there was an intruder in his home. Prosecutors said he killed Steenkamp deliberately. Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the sentence today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MASIPA: The following is what I consider to be a sentence that is firm and just, both to society and to the accused.

CORNISH: And that sentence - five years in prison. Oscar Pistorius has now begun serving his time. Reporter Nastasya Tay has been covering the trial in Pretoria, and she joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

NASTASYA TAY: Thanks very much, Audie.

CORNISH: So as we mentioned, this was a conviction on culpable homicide which I understand falls short of murder. What does that mean in terms of sentencing?

TAY: So murder has a minimum sentencing requirement of 15 years in prison and culpable homicide needs to be less than that. And so really what we're looking at is a five year sentence, but in practice, the way that the prison system here works and the way that the law works, he could be out on parole or have his - the rest of his sentence converted to house arrest in 10-months-time. That is at the discretion of the Department of Correctional services, and they're going to have to review how he's conducted himself in prison.

CORNISH: What was the reaction in the courtroom to this announcement, particularly from the family of Reeva Steenkamp?

TAY: Well, there's been a huge amount of emotion throughout the entire trial, and remarkably today, everyone remained dry eyed on both sides of the court - so not just on the Steenkamp bench but also the Pistorius bench and also Oscar Pistorius himself. Now, he stood there very silently, listening to Judge Masipa dry-eyed, and seemed to accept the sentence as it was handed down. He greeted his uncle Arnold and was led immediately down the steps to the holding cells beneath the courthouse. Now, immediately after that, the Steenkamp family lawyer came over and told several journalists that he does believe and the Steenkamps also believe, that justice has been done. But they have had a long time to prepare for this day, and I think there's a level of acceptance there. And the Pistorius family says they won't be appealing the sentencing and that going forward, they really hope this is the beginning for Oscar's road to recovery - his road to healing.

CORNISH: Throughout the trial there's been a lot of discussion about how it reflects on post-apartheid South Africa - Judge Masipa, one of the first women to be appointed to the high court - and she talked about this explicitly during the sentencing. She said she wanted to convey that South Africa does not have two separate systems of justice. Let's listen more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MASIPA: I might add that it would be a sad day for this country if an impression were to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous.

CORNISH: Do you get the sense that there has been a kind of shift in the discussions about class and justice in South Africa that has emerged from this trial?

TAY: I think there's been an unprecedented amount of interest and media coverage. This is South Africa's first ever trial to be broadcast live, and it's attracted a huge amount of public interest. We saw that today as Oscar Pistorius was driven away in his armored car and off to prison. And there was a huge crowd, some of them cheering and others screaming take him away. So lots of people made up their minds earlier.

But I think more interesting than that is the level of engagement with the justice system. So I think now South Africans have seen how the justice system works - they understand a little better. But also, more importantly, they know what they can demand of the justice system and hopefully will be able to change the way they see that going forward.

CORNISH: Nastasya Tay, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TAY: A pleasure, Audie.

CORNISH: Reporter Nastasya Tay - she's been covering the trial of Oscar Pistorius. She spoke with us from Pretoria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.