By TJ Strydom
PRETORIA (Reuters) – Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s “Blade Runner”, was released on parole late on Monday, just short of a year into his five-year sentence for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.
But the disgraced Paralympic gold medallist must serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest, and still has to face an appeal by prosecutors who argue that he should have been convicted of murder rather than culpable homicide.
Pistorius, 28, who was found guilty of the lesser charge when he fired four shots through a locked bathroom door and hit Steenkamp, will be confined to his uncle Arnold’s home in a wealthy suburb of the capital, Pretoria.
Pistorius was freed on Monday evening, taking media by surprise. A group of reporters gathered at the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the athlete or a comment from his family.
He had been expected to leave prison on Tuesday, but the Department of Correctional Services made clear that officials at the capital’s Kgosi Mampuru II prison, formerly known as Pretoria Central, had acted to avoid a media scrum at its gates.
“The handling of the actual placement is an operational matter of the local management and how they handle it is their prerogative,” department spokesman Manelisi Wolela said in a text message.
“They carry it out in the best interest of all parties concerned.”
The athlete, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, was freed in line with South African sentencing guidelines that say non-dangerous prisoners should spend only one-sixth of a custodial sentence behind bars. [ID:nL8N12F34F]
Parole conditions already announced include that Pistorius, a gun enthusiast, must undergo psychotherapy and is not allowed to possess a firearm.
Africa’s most advanced economy has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.
“He might not have been found guilty of murder, but it was yet another instance of a South African woman killed by an intimate partner, and I don’t believe the time he spent in prison reflects the severity either of his crime or the epidemic of violence against women,” said Louise Ferreira, a feminist activist and writer.
Steenkamp’s family have said they are unhappy with Pistorius’s sentence and questioned the verdict in public in August.
Tania Koen, a lawyer for the Steenkamp family which has opposed early parole, told state broadcaster SABC last week: “Nothing is changed in their lives. Reeva is not coming back.”
Prosecutors argue the verdict should be one of murder because Pistorius must have known that the person behind the door could be killed. The appeal is due to be heard on Nov. 3.
The state will argue that the trial judge misinterpreted parts of the law. A murder conviction would result in a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
A panel of five judges will hear the appeal. They could either reject the prosecution’s appeal, order a retrial or convict Pistorius of murder themselves, legal experts say.
(Additional reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Roche & Shri Navaratnam)