PRETORIA –– Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s double-amputee “Blade Runner”, was released on parole late yesterday, just short of a year into his five-year sentence for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.
The disgraced Paralympic gold medallist must serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest, and still faces an appeal on November 3 by prosecutors who argue that he should have been convicted of murder, not culpable homicide.
Pistorius, 28, who was found guilty of the lesser charge for firing four shots through a locked bathroom door that hit Steenkamp, will be confined to his uncle Arnold’s home in a wealthy suburb of the capital Pretoria.
Pistorius had been expected to leave prison today, and his early release took media by surprise.
Family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said today that they were glad to have Pistorius home and that the athlete would observe his parole conditions closely.
“The family [are] happy that Oscar is home, but they want to make the point that his sentence continues,” Burgess said outside the house.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) said officials at the capital’s Kgosi Mampuru II Prison, formerly known as Pretoria Central, had acted to avoid a media scrum at its gates.
“The handling of the actual placement is an operational matter of the local management, and how they handle it is their prerogative,” department spokesman Manelisi Wolela said in a text message. “They carry it out in the best interest of all parties concerned.”
The DCS later said in a statement that “the privacy of offenders may not be invaded”, in response to media requests on the specific details of Pistorius’ parole conditions.
A lawyer for Steenkamp’s family, who publicly questioned the verdict in August said they were indifferent to his release in view of their loss.
“To them it doesn’t matter whether he was released yesterday a few hours earlier or a few hours later,” lawyer Tania Koen said on Talk Radio 702.
“Whether he remains incarcerated or not, it makes no difference to them now because Reeva is still not coming back.”
Koen said the Steenkamps would not be issuing a further statement about Pistorius’s release.
“They are focusing on their work with the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation. The fight against gender-based violence was a passion of Reeva’s and she was due to speak about it on the day of her death,” Koen told Reuters.
A neighbour who declined to be named told Reuters it was sad Pistorius was freed having served less than a year in prison.
“This is hardly a prison,” she said of the leafy suburb of Waterkloof, where Pretorius is under house arrest.
But Dewald Reynders, a former athlete who said he trained with Pistorius in the past, welcomed the news.
Reynders said he had known Pistorius since 2004 and had seen what effect the media scrutiny had on the then teenage boy.
“I’m glad he was released quietly last night. He shouldn’t have to go through all of it over and over again.”
A bouquet of flowers was delivered to the house although it was unclear who had sent it.
The athlete, whose lower legs were amputated when he was a baby, was freed in line with South African sentencing guidelines that say non-dangerous prisoners should spend only one-sixth of a custodial sentence behind bars.
“I’m hoping to catch up with him some time this week,” Pistorius agent Peet van Zyl said, adding that he understood Pistorius had not been training during his year behind bars.
Pistorius will be allowed to leave the house on occasion.
“The conditions are strict and he will be able to leave the house to go to work, go to church or to buy groceries,” said Karen van Eck, an attorney with Clarke and Van Eck Attorneys.
But as his job is competitive athletics this could prove challenging for him, as events far from the house are likely to be off limits, said Van Eck.