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Oscar Pistorius denied parole for murdering his girlfriend

The South African Paralympian shot dead 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day in 2013.
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Oscar Pistorius, the disgraced South African Paralympian who murdered his girlfriend 10 years ago, was denied parole Friday, following a hearing at a prison in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, where he has been held.

The double-amputee sprinter, 36, who was known as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon fiber prosthetic legs, fired at Reeva Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door at his home in Pretoria in the early hours of Valentine’s Day in 2013. A promising model and law graduate, she was 29.

Pistorius’ trial was beamed around the world and details of Steenkamp’s death shocked audiences, while the case instantly ended the career of a pioneering sportsman who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics.  

A statement from South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services said Pistorius would be considered for parole again in August 2024 and would not be released now because “he did not complete the minimum Detention Period as ruled by the Supreme Court of Appeal.”

The Steenkamp family’s lawyer, Tania Koen, said in a statement after the parole board’s decision: “While we welcome today’s decision, today is not a cause for celebration. We miss Reeva terribly and will do so for the rest of our lives. We believe in justice and hope that it continues to prevail.”

Oscar Pistorius set for release after serving half of his sentence for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
South African Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius during his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on May 6, 2014.Mike Hutchings / AFP via Getty Images file

Pistorius has always maintained that he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar and shot her in error, but he was ultimately convicted of murder. Under South African law he is eligible for release having served half his sentence of 13 years and five months. 

If Pistorius had been released before the end of his prison term, he would likely have had to wear a security tag and not travel outside of Gauteng Province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. He would have remained under the supervision of the authorities and attended regular appointments until his entire sentence was finished.

Pistorius met with Steenkamp’s father, Barry, in June 2022 as a condition of the parole process. Her family opposed his release because they still don’t believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing.

Her mother, June Steenkamp, attended the hearing on Friday to deliver written and oral statements to the parole board that explained the effect Reeva’s murder has had on their lives.

“Unless he comes clean, they don’t feel that he is rehabilitated,” Koen, told reporters outside the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison, before the hearing.

Pistorius’ protracted trial began in 2014, with two subsequent appeals by prosecutors. The multiple Paralympic champion was initially found guilty of culpable homicide — an offense comparable to manslaughter — for shooting Steenkamp. 

But in 2015, prosecutors appealed the manslaughter finding and secured a murder conviction

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg in 2012. The couple had been together for just two months at the time of her death.Lucky Nxumalo / AFP - Getty Images file

Pistorius was sentenced to six years in jail for murder, but prosecutors again appealed what they called a “shockingly lenient” punishment. The Supreme Court of Appeal then increased his sentence to 13.5 years in prison in 2017.

“It completely dominated coverage at the time, on every TV, radio station as well as the newspapers, online, social media and so forth,” Glenda Daniels, associate professor of media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told NBC News. “There was even a whole TV channel devoted to the trial.”

There were many layers contributing to global interest in the trial, Daniels said, chief among them Pistorius being “a loved character” in the sports world, locally and internationally, and the celebrity status of the couple.

Pistorius was born with a congenital condition that led to both his legs being amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old.

But he became world-famous for his sporting exploits, leading out the South African team at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, days before becoming the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the games. He would go on to reach the semi-finals in the 400m, the distance he specialized in.

As a Paralympian he was a world record holder and world champion. This led to lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike and Oakley, which were suspended after Steenkamp’s death.

South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius is expected to attend a parole hearing on Friday that could see him released from prison early, a decade after he killed his girlfriend.
Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria for a parole hearing. The family oppose Pistorius' release.Phill Magakoe / AFP - Getty Images

At his trial in 2014, the court heard from a previous girlfriend who said Pistorius had a gun with him “all the time,” including on his bedside table while he slept.

Pistorius told the court that his actions in shooting Steenkamp were influenced by his fear of a home invasion. He said he had been followed, shot at and hi-jacked while living in South Africa and said he was “simply trying to protect Reeva” as he apologized to her family. 

“I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home. Initially I just froze. The first thing that ran through my mind was that I needed to arm myself,” he told the court.

South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius is expected to attend a parole hearing on Friday that could see him released from prison early, a decade after he killed his girlfriend.
The Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria, South Africa, where Pistorius' parole hearing was held on Friday.Phill Magakoe / AFP - Getty Images

At one point the athlete vomited and sobbed in the courtroom as he saw close-up images of Steenkamp’s body. 

The court also heard that the couple, who were only together for two months, had argued over a conversation Steenkamp had with another man at an event in January 2013, without introducing him to Pistorius.

“I was a bit upset, I felt neglected,” Pistorius said. “I was being sensitive … insecure or jealous. … I wasn’t kind to her like I should have been.”

The court heard that she had sent him a Whatsapp message a month before the shooting that said: “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me.”

Steenkamp tweeted the day before her murder: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay.”