By GERALD IMRAY Associated Press
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — There was an “obvious mistake” in the process to deny Oscar Pistorius parole last week and the former Olympic runner is seeking to overturn that decision and have a new hearing to be considered for early release from prison as soon as possible, his lawyer told The Associated Press on Monday.
“I’m confident that common sense will prevail,” lawyer Julian Knight said, claiming that Pistorius was not given credit in his parole application for an extra year and four months he has served in prison after being convicted of murder for the 2013 shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The 36-year-old Pistorius was denied parole on Friday because he hasn’t served the minimum amount of jail time required, a parole board said, a surprise reasoning that prompted criticism of the Department of Corrections for holding the hearing at all if Pistorius wasn’t eligible.
The parole board ruled that he will only be eligible in August 2024.
Pistorius’ legal team is disputing that and the push to have a new hearing appears set to unleash another round of legal wranglings in a case that has captured the world’s attention for a decade and changed direction dramatically as a result of numerous appeals and overturned decisions.
Both of Pistorius’ lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congential condition but he went on to become a multiple Paralympic champion sprinter and even competed against the world’s best able-bodied athletes at the 2012 Olympics, running on carbon-fiber blades.
He was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet door in his home.
But that final sentence only came in 2017, three years after his widely-televised murder trial ended and after a series of appeals by prosecutors. They successfully overturned an initial conviction comparable to manslaughter, arguing that it was too lenient, and then also had a six-year sentence for murder more than doubled.
Serious offenders in South Africa must serve half their sentence before they can be eligible for parole, meaning Pistorius must serve six years, eight 1/2 months — half of 13 years and five months — to be eligible for early release.
The problems have arisen over the 2017 ruling by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal to increase his murder sentence. The court said it was sentencing him to 13 years and five months and not the mandatory minimum of 15 years for murder in South Africa because it took into account the one year and seven months he served after the manslaughter conviction between late 2014 and mid-2016.
But the Supreme Court didn’t take into account another year and four months Pistorius served in prison between when he was first sentenced for murder in July 2016 and when the Supreme Court increased his sentence in November 2017, lawyer Knight said.
That extra year and four months makes Pistorius eligible for parole now, the lawyer said.
“It was an obvious mistake” not to count that time, Knight said.
Knight said he was now applying for the Supreme Court to clarify its judgment relating to when Pistorius’ murder sentence should have started and that would likely take around a month. It was unclear how long it would take to get a new parole hearing, he said.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment on the confusion surrounding Pistorius’ parole eligibility, with spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo saying the parole board which ruled Pistorius was ineligible was an independent body that the department had no control over.
The parole board said last week that it was guided by the Supreme Court decision when denying Pistorius’ parole application.
Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, opposed Pistorius’ parole for a different reason. They say he should not be considered to be rehabilitated unless he comes clean over the circumstances of their daughter’s killing 10 years ago.
Pistorius killed the 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, a model and law graduate, in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 by firing four shots through a door and into a tiny toilet cubicle where she was, hitting her multiple times.
He has always claimed that he killed her by mistake with his licensed 9 mm pistol, believing she was a dangerous intruder. He said he didn’t realize that she had gotten out of bed and gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Steenkamp’s parents say they believe Pistorius killed their daughter intentionally after a late-night argument and is still lying.
June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ parole hearing on Friday to argue he should not be released early from prison.
Even if Pistorius is granted a new parole hearing, it is not guaranteed he will be released.
A parole board takes several factors into account, including the seriousness of the crime, submissions from a victim’s relatives, the behavior of the offender in prison and if their release is likely to pose a danger to the public.