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Community service suggested for 'broken man' Oscar Pistorius

A prison official recommended that the athlete be made clean a museum for 16 hours a month for the next three years.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

A SOUTH AFRICAN prison official has recommended that star Paralympian Oscar Pistorius clean a Pretoria museum for 16 hours a month as punishment for killing Reeva Steenkamp.

The testimony came at the start of a sentencing hearing which began today. Pistorius was found guilty last month of negligently killing his girlfriend in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

But the 27-year-old double amputee was cleared of the more serious charge of murder.

Joel Maringa, a social worker in South Africa’s notoriously crowded and brutal jails, told the court that Pistorius should not go to jail, but receive “correctional supervision” for three years under “house arrest”.

“The accused will benefit from correctional supervision,” said Maringa, adding that “he will get an opportunity to restructure and modify his behaviour”.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel described Maringa’s suggestion as “shockingly inappropriate”.

In tough cross-examination Nel questioned whether Maringa understood the seriousness of the crime that Pistorius had committed, after he admitted he did not have detailed knowledge of the case.

Reeva’s father Barry Steenkamp held his head with his hand as Maringa spoke. Her friends shook their heads in disbelief.

Maringa was the second witness called by Pistorius’s defence lawyers, who are fighting to keep him out of jail.

Earlier Pistorius’s therapist told the court that he suffered genuine remorse after shooting dead Steenkamp.

Defence witness Lore Hartzenberg said Pistorius was virtually inconsolable during initial counselling sessions after he killed Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.

“Some of the sessions were just him weeping and crying and me holding him,” said Hartzenberg.

“I can confirm his remorse and pain to be genuine,” said Hartzenberg.

I have never found him to be anything other than a respectful, caring and well-mannered person.

She described Pistorius as a “broken man”.

Pistorius entered the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria amid tight security for the start of the sentencing hearing, which is expected to run for most of the week.

The “Blade Runner” could face up to 15 years in prison or could dodge a jail term altogether with a non-custodial sentence.

The defence team is expected to argue that the country’s prisons are not suited for his disability and that the 2012 London Paralympics silver medallist deserves leniency as a first time offender.

Hartzenberg did not testify during the trial.

During her cross-examination, the court heard that Steenkamp’s father had suffered a stroke after her death, and her mother has repeatedly collapsed on the floor in tears, their lives shattered by the tragedy.

Nel suggested Hartzenberg was biased in favour of Pistorius, pointing out that she once cried during the trial.

“I cried in court, I was emotional once when he was required to take off his prosthesis,” she admitted.

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‘Oscar’s remorsefulness’

Lawyer David Dadic — who is not involved in the case — said the defence will “heavily expand on their trial argument regarding Oscar’s remorsefulness”.

“The biggest factor, however, which the defence will raise is, of course, the fact that Oscar is a first time offender,” he added.

In turn, the state will call witnesses to testify on why he should serve the stiffest penalty, raising the issue of his history of negligence with firearms.

After the sentence is handed down, both the state and defence can appeal, a legal process that could drag out for years.

In September, Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled the athlete did not knowingly shoot to kill the 29-year-old model and law graduate.

The sprinter admitted he fired four hollow point bullets through a locked toilet door in his upmarket Pretoria home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, but said he believed he had been shooting at a burglar.

Masipa’s ruling outraged many South Africans, including lawyers who believed she misinterpreted the definition of murder, and questioned whether the justice system is failing the crime-plagued country.

Pistorius is currently out on bail of one million rand ($90,000).

He had to sell his house inside a gated compound in Pretoria, the scene of the crime, to fund the cost of the trial, and has withdrawn from competitive sport since his arrest.

The trial, which began on 3 March, was broadcast live on television and radio, feeding insatiable local and international media interest.

The athlete cut a lonely figure in the dock, at some points sobbing and retching loudly while testifying.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Pistorius could get 15 years in one of South Africa’s brutal prisons or dodge jail altogether

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