Oscar Pistorius has removed his prosthetic legs in a South African courtroom as part of his defence team’s argument that the double-amputee athlete, convicted of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, deserves leniency when he is sentenced.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux asked Pistorius to remove his prostheses, and the former track star and Olympian, who had taken off his suit and put on a T-shirt and running shorts during a recess, then walked in front of Judge Thokozile Masipa.
The demonstration drew gasps from some onlookers in the courtroom and Pistorius became tearful.
“I don’t want to overplay disability,” Mr Roux said ahead of the demonstration, “but the time has come that we must just look (at Pistorius) with different eyes”.
Judge Masipa will deliver Pistorius’s sentence after hearings end this week. Pistorius is currently under house arrest and awaiting a new sentence after an appeals court overturned an initial manslaughter conviction against him and changed that to murder for shooting Ms Steenkamp at his home in 2013.
South Africa has a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for murder, although a judge can reduce that in some circumstances.
Walking in court without his prosthetic legs, Pistorius was unsteady at times, holding on to wooden desks and helped by a woman at one point. He then returned to a bench where he sat alone, head bowed, and wiped away tears.
When he had his chance to address the judge, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Judge Masipa not to forget that Pistorius shot four times into a toilet cubicle from close range with no justification when he killed Ms Steenkamp.
“He intended to shoot someone in the bathroom. He did,” Mr Nel said. “Pity will play no role in the sentence.”
The defence’s argument is that Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and a history-making amputee athlete who ran at the 2012 Olympics, was a scared disabled man when he shot Ms Steenkamp through the toilet door. Pistorius was not wearing his prosthetic legs when he fired the fatal shots; he testified at his murder trial that he felt vulnerable and thought an intruder was in the house.
Mr Roux said on Wednesday: “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”.
Prosecutors charged that Pistorius intentionally killed Ms Steenkamp after a fight.
Mr Nel also addressed the argument that Pistorius is a “broken man” because of the grief from killing Ms Steenkamp and the trauma that followed as the world focused on his case. Mr Nel referred to the emotional testimony a day earlier of Barry Steenkamp, father of the victim.
“If you ever want to talk about a broken man, we saw a broken man there,” Mr Nel said of Barry Steenkamp.
Mr Nel repeated Barry Steenkamp’s request that graphic photographs showing the fatal wounds Pistorius inflicted on his girlfriend – including a severe head injury – should be made public in the hope of deterring people from doing what Pistorius did.
Judge Masipa initially acquitted Pistorius of murder at his trial in 2014, but her decision was overturned last year by South Africa’s Supreme Court and she will have to decide the new sentence. The sentencing hearing is scheduled to run through to Friday this week.
While prosecutors are seeking a long jail term for the 29-year-old Pistorius, his defence has argued that he should be spared prison and allowed to do community work with children.
Mr Roux began his arguments by saying there are misconceptions over Pistorius’s murder conviction, which he called “enemies” of the case. Mr Roux said “substantial and compelling circumstances” existed that would allow the judge to deviate from the minimum term of 15 years in prison.
One misconception, Mr Roux said, was that people believed Pistorius was convicted of murder for intentionally killing Ms Steenkamp. The Supreme Court found Pistorius guilty of murder in that he realised that someone might die as a result of his actions and went ahead anyway.
The ruling did not say that Pistorius knew it was Ms Steenkamp – and not an intruder, as he claimed he thought it was – behind the door.