Olympian Oscar Pistorius must meet parents of murdered girlfriend for chance at parole

Eight years after he shot and killed his girlfriend, double amputee Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius is up for parole, but first must meet with her parents.

Runner sentenced in 2015 to 13 years, 5 months in prison after murdering girlfriend

Oscar Pistorius, centre, arrives at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa on July 6, 2016. The famed runner is up for parole, having served half of his sentence for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. (Shiraaz Mohamed/The Associated Press)

Eight years after he shot and killed his girlfriend, Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius is up for parole, but first must meet with her parents.

Pistorius, a world-famous double-amputee athlete who competed at the 2012 Olympics, has been eligible for parole since July after he was convicted of murder for shooting model Reeva Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet door in his home on Valentine's Day 2013.

Pistorius was convicted of murder in 2015 and ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison. He became eligible for parole under South African law after serving half his sentence.

A parole hearing for Pistorius was scheduled for last month and then cancelled, partly because a meeting between Pistorius and Steenkamp's parents, Barry and June, had not been arranged, lawyers for both parties told The Associated Press on Monday.

Corrections department officials scheduled the parole hearing for October, but it was called off when a full report on Pistorius's time in prison wasn't available, said Julian Knight, a lawyer for Pistorius. The date for a new hearing has not yet been set, Knight said.

Also, Barry and June Steenkamp want a face-to-face meeting with Pistorius before he is considered for early release from prison, as is their right under South Africa's victim-offender dialogue policy.

June Steenkamp, the victim's mother, sits in court in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on Nov. 3, 2017. She and her husband want a face-to-face meeting with Pistorius before he is considered for early release, as is their right under South African policy. (The Associated Press)

The Steenkamps have previously said they want to challenge Pistorius on why he shot their daughter and they would get to do that, with victim-offender meetings aimed at achieving closure for families of victims of crimes.

"They [Barry and June] feel that Reeva has got a voice. They are Reeva's voice, and they owe it to their beloved daughter," said Tania Koen, the Steenkamps' lawyer.

The Steenkamps will also be allowed to make recommendations to the parole board, although Koen wouldn't say if they will oppose Pistorius' release.

"We have discussed it," Koen said, but declined to give details.

The opinion of victims' families is considered by a parole board when deciding whether to release an offender, but it's not the only criteria.

Parole talk 'opens a lot of wounds'

The 34-year-old Pistorius could be taken from where he is incarcerated at the Atteridgeville Correctional Center in the capital, Pretoria, to the Steenkamps' home city of Gqerberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) for the victim-offender meeting because, according to Koen, Barry Steenkamp is unable to travel due to his health.

Knight said it might "turn out" that way but the corrections department would decide. Knight said he was hopeful that the meeting between his client and the Steenkamps, which must happen before a parole hearing, could take place by the end of the year.

It was a "huge surprise" for the Steenkamps when corrections services officials contacted them last month to say that Pistorius is eligible for parole, Koen said. They believed he would only be eligible in 2023, she said.

"[It] opens a lot of wounds or rips off the plasters they had put on those wounds," Koen said.

The confusion over when he would be eligible emanated from Pistorius's long and protracted murder trial and two subsequent appeals by prosecutors. Pistorius went on trial in 2014 and his case was only finalized in 2018.

The multiple Paralympic champion was initially found guilty of culpable homicide — an offence comparable to manslaughter — for shooting Steenkamp with his licensed 9 mm pistol. He claimed at his trial it was a tragic accident and he mistook her for a dangerous intruder.

Prosecutors appealed the manslaughter finding and secured a murder conviction. Pistorius was sentenced to six years in jail for murder, but prosecutors again appealed what they called a shockingly light punishment for murder. The Supreme Court of Appeal then more than doubled his sentence in 2017.

Knight later sought clarification over the sentence from the Supreme Court to see if the time Pistorius had already served in prison for culpable homicide should count toward his parole. It did, Knight said, meaning Pistorius could be considered for parole two years earlier than courts had initially indicated.

Knight said he believed Pistorius had met the requirements to be released early.

"From what I have observed of him he has been a model prisoner while he has been in prison," Knight said. "My view is that he does meet the requirements to be placed on parole, but the procedures must be followed."

Knight said a parole board could impose a range of conditions on Pistorius if he is released, like only being allowed to leave home to go to work during the week, and only for a limited time on weekends to buy groceries and attend church.

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