Oscar Pistorius’ sentence increased to 13 years, 5 months

AP
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SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius’ prison sentence was more than doubled to 13 years and five months on Friday, a surprisingly dramatic intervention by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal in the Olympic athlete’s fate after the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In an announcement that took a matter of minutes, Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti said a panel of judges unanimously upheld an appeal by prosecutors against Pistorius’ original six-year sentence for shooting Steenkamp multiple times in his home in 2013.

Under that initial sentence, which the court called “shockingly lenient,” the double-amputee runner could have been released on parole in mid-2019. Now, the earliest he’ll be eligible for parole is 2023.

The ruling could finally bring an end to the near five-year legal saga surrounding Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and record-breaker who was the first amputee to run at the Olympics and one of the most celebrated sportsmen in the world.

Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, were “emotional” as they watched Seriti deliver the verdict live on television at their home, family lawyer Tania Koen said.

“They feel there has been justice for Reeva. She can now rest in peace,” Koen told The Associated Press. “But at the same time, people must realize that people think this is the end of the road for them … the fact is they still live with Reeva’s loss every day.”

Pistorius killed Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after shooting four times through a closed toilet cubicle door with his 9 mm pistol. He claimed he mistook the 29-year-old model and reality TV star for an intruder and was initially convicted of manslaughter by trial judge Thokozile Masipa. That conviction was overturned and replaced with a murder conviction by the Supreme Court in 2015. Pistorius was then sentenced to six years for murder by Masipa, a decision also now rejected by the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors called the six-year sentence much too lenient and the Supreme Court agreed, saying in a full written ruling released later that “the sentence of six years’ imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivialising this serious offence.”

The Supreme Court said that Pistorius “displays a lack of remorse, and does not appreciate the gravity of his actions.”

Pistorius’ brother, Carl, wrote on Twitter: “Shattered. Heartbroken. Gutted.” A spokesman for the Pistorius family didn’t answer calls from the AP.

Pistorius should have been sentenced to the prescribed minimum of 15 years for murder, Seriti said, as he delivered the verdict of a panel of five judges at the Supreme Court in the central city of Bloemfontein. There is no death penalty in South Africa.

The new sentence of 13 years and five months took into account the one year and seven months Pistorius served in prison and under house arrest after his manslaughter conviction.

The new sentence was backdated to start on the day he began his murder sentence, on July 6 last year.

Supreme Court judges are generally reluctant to change sentences handed down by trial courts, and it’s rare for them to change one so dramatically.

“I did not expect the Supreme Court of Appeal to hand down such a lengthy sentence of imprisonment,” legal analyst Ulrich Roux said on the eNCA news channel. “But, if one looks at what the law states, and given the fact that murder does carry the minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, I think the decision could be vindicated.”

Pistorius must serve at least half of the 13 years and five months — nearly seven years — before he can be considered for parole. He has served a year and five months of his murder sentence.

Pistorius, who turned 31 on Wednesday, is being held at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre on the outskirts of the South African capital, Pretoria, and did not attend any of the appeal hearings.

Friday’s decision also has possible consequences for where he is held for the remainder of his sentence. Pistorius was moved from the high security Kgosi Mampuru II Prison in central Pretoria to Atteridgeville, which houses prisoners sentenced to six years or less. Pistorius might now be moved back to a higher security facility.

Pistorius’ lawyers have one avenue left open to them if they want to challenge the new sentence, and that is to appeal to the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa.

Pistorius failed with an appeal to the Constitutional Court last year to challenge his murder conviction.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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