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Pistorius trial: State set to fight for lengthy jail term

Judge Thokozile Masipa earlier convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide for killing Steenkamp.

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is seen during judgment in his murder trial at the High Court in Pretoria on Friday, 12 September 2014. Picture: Pool.

PRETORIA - The prosecution in the Oscar Pistorius trial will be spending the weekend contemplating whether they still can still succeed in securing a 15-year sentence for the 'Blade Runner' or whether he has can avoid any jail time.

Judge Thokozile Masipa delivered the final part of her judgment in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria this morning.

She told the state that it has failed in its efforts to secure a prosecution for murder as the evidence presented fell short of what was required for a murder charge.

Six months of gruelling cross-examination, heated emotion and unbearable details of what happened on Valentine's Day last year finally culminated in a judgement of culpable homicide this morning.

Pistorius, the double amputee who became one of the biggest names in athletics, shot dead his model and law graduate girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

The judge extended Pistorius's bail until 13 October when sentencing proceedings will start.

She urged Pistorius's family to keep him out of trouble until his sentencing.

Masipa told the court that she had considered all options.

"I have used my discretion. In favour of the accused, I grant the application to extend the bail of the accused."

Masipa said the onus was on the state to provide sufficient reasons as to why Pistorius should not be granted extended bail.

"This is not a schedule five or schedule six offence. For that reason, the onus is on the state to persuade this court that it was not in the interests of justice that the accused's bail be extended. I am not so persuaded."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel had argued that the recent sale of assets by Pistorius could be an indication that he intended to skip bail and leave the country.

There were also concerns about whether Pistorius can be reintegrated into society, after his recent altercation at a Johannesburg nightclub.

Masipa, however, agreed with the defence team's argument that if Pistorius did not comply with any conditions, they could apply to a court to have the bail revoked.

The judge earlier convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide for killing Steenkamp.

Pistorius was also convicted of firing a pistol under the table of a packed Johannesburg restaurant but cleared of two other firearms charges - illegal possession of ammunition and firing a pistol out of the sunroof of a car.

Culpable homicide carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison but, given Pistorius's lack of previous convictions, he could avoid a custodial sentence altogether, legal experts said.

The Paralympic and Olympic athlete escaped the more serious charges of premeditated murder and murder.

Masipa based her culpable homicide decision on the fact Pistorius had acted negligently when he fired four shots from a 9mm pistol into a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home, killing Steenkamp, who was behind it, almost instantly.

He said it was a tragic error after he mistook her for an intruder.

Masipa said the state failed to prove Pistorius intended to kill his girlfriend but that his negligent conduct led to the shooting.

Since the news first broke on the morning of 14 February last year, the case has gripped millions around the world who saw Pistorius as the embodiment of triumph over adversity, a man whose lower legs were amputated as a baby but who reached the semi-finals of the 400 metres at the London Olympics in 2012.

'THERE ARE NO VICTORS IN SUCH A TRAGEDY'

In a final media conference in the high court after proceedings adjourned, the athlete's uncle Arnold said there were no victors in such a tragedy and the family remained affected by what had happened.

"It won't bring Reeva back but our hearts still go out to her family and friends."

He said the matter is still before the court and it would therefore not be proper to make comments on the merits of the case.

Pistorius will remain at his uncle Arnold's home in the leafy Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof until his sentencing begins.

Last night, after all murder charges against Pistorius were dropped, Arnold came outside and offered reporters refreshments.

REACTION

There have been mixed emotions both inside and outside the courtroom today with many people debating whether Judge Masipa was too lenient.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says South Africans must be comforted by the fact that there are two convictions in the trial, as this shows there are consequences for committing crime.

The NPA's Nathi Mncube says they're disappointed in a sense about the final verdict, but South Africans must appreciate that this is not a bad reflection on the justice system.

He said South Africans must acknowledge that committing a crime does have consequences.

Meanwhile, legal experts say the sentence that Pistorius could face for culpable homicide could range from a fine to a lengthy term behind bars.

Criminal lawyer Cliff Alexander says the way Judge Masipa made her findings about Pistorius's conduct may have an impact on the sentence she imposes.

"It might mitigate his circumstances. The fact that she believes that he believed there was an intruder and that he fired negligently with no malice per se."

However, attorney Zola Majavu says the judge may actually impose a jail term.

"I think it's safe to say given her reasoning and the harsh words she had to say against the conduct of Mr Pistorius, we are most likely looking at a custodial sentence."

But both attorneys said they believe the prosecution could have strong grounds to appeal this verdict.

In Steenkamp's hometown of Port Elizabeth, residents say Pistorius is receiving preferential treatment because of his high profile.

They say if he had not been a world icon, he would have been convicted of murder.

Members of the community have offered their support to the Steenkamps.

They say their last hope is now on Judge Masipa to send Pistorius to jail on the culpable homicide charge.

The small community say they will remain by the Steenkamps side even during a possible appeal.

Some residents at the Steenkamp family's pub, The Barking Spider, say Masipa has handed down an appropriate sentence while others are outraged.

For more on the trial, click here, or visit the live Oscar Pistorius blog.

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