Johannesburg:Oscar Pistorius began serving a five-year prison sentence for killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He could be transferred to house arrest in 10 months.

Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the punishment for Pistorius’s manslaughter conviction at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. She handed down a suspended three-year sentence for his conviction for negligently firing a gun in a crowded restaurant.

“I am of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to society," Masipa, 67, told a packed courtroom on Tuesday. “On the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate either, as it would lack element of mercy."

After the sentence was announced, Pistorius was escorted down the stairs to the holding cells at the court, shaking his uncle Arnold’s hand as members of his family leaned over the railings. He was driven away in an armoured police van, still in his suit, and is expected to serve the time at the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in the city, which houses some of South Africa’s most-violent criminals.

“There’s no closure without Reeva," her mother June Steenkamp said as she left the courthouse. Barry Steenkamp, her father, said, “we are satisfied".

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, was cleared of murder charges and convicted of culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter, for killing Steenkamp when he fired four shots into a closed bathroom door.

He said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder.

Worldwide audience

The sentence brought to an end the first full trial in South Africa to be broadcast live on TV that attracted a worldwide audience. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius won six Paralympic gold medals and was the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. The shooting cost him sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. and Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley.

“It would be a sad day for this country if an impression were to be created that there was one law for the poor and disadvantaged and another for the rich and famous," Masipa said in her decision.

Pistorius must serve at least 10 months in jail and could then be placed under house arrest, his attorney, Roxanne Adams, told reporters. The prosecutor “decided to inflict as much collateral damage as they could by keeping a cloud of premeditated murder over this case for as long as possible," Arnold Pistorius told reporters outside the High Court chambers. “Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society."

Some closure

The ruling African National Congress’ Women’s League is unhappy with both the sentence and the verdict, spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni said on Tuesday by phone. “We will be making submissions to the state that an appeal in this case will be in the interest of justice," she said.

The National Prosecution Authority hasn’t decided whether to appeal Tuesday’s decision, said spokesman Nathi Mncube. The NPA and defence team have 14 days to lodge an appeal.

“The loss of life cannot be reversed; nothing I do or say today can reverse what happened to the deceased and to her family," Judge Masipa said. “Hopefully this sentence shall provide some sort of closure to the family." Bloomberg

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