Double amputee Oscar Pistorius would be highly vulnerable in South Africa’s brutal jails, his disability elevating the risk of poor hygiene and even gang rape, a defence witness has told his sentencing hearing.
Parole officer Annette Vergeer warned that prison would “break” the Paralympian star, as his legal team mounted a last-ditch battle to keep him from going to jail for manslaughter over the killing of his girlfriend last year.
“Without legs he will be vulnerable and a lot more vulnerable than the normal man,” said Vergeer, who was paid for her work for the defence.
“I’ve recently done a case for rape within the prison, gang rape, how can we say that he won’t be exposed to that?” she said, adding that washing his stumps may also be a problem.
Pistorius was found guilty last month of culpable homicide over the killing of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, but acquitted of murder.
His sentencing hearing began at a Pretoria court on Monday and is expected to run for the much of the week.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will likely make her decision on Friday, according to sources.
Vergeer argued for a three-year non-custodial sentence, claiming prison “will only have a negative impact and in fact place him in danger. It will not assist him, it will break him”.
Another defence witness on Monday suggested Pistorius clean a museum for 16 hours a week as punishment, drawing a furious reaction from state lawyers.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel described the suggestion as “shockingly inappropriate”.
There is no mandatory sentence for culpable homicide in South Africa, and Masipa could give Pistorius anything from a suspended sentence to 15 years in jail.
South Africa’s department of correctional services has said that Pistorius could be entitled to separate accommodation “depending on the vulnerability caused by the disability”.
Earlier, Nel argued that Pistorius only used charitable work as a marketing tool, downplaying suggestions on Tuesday by Pistorius’ manager Peet Van Zyl that the double-amputee Olympic sprinter had engaged in volunteer work and donated funds to help disabled people.
Getting involved in charity “is merely an advancement of your career”, Nel told Van Zyl. “If you see it that way,” the manager answered.
Pistorius’ therapist told the court on Monday that he had felt deep and genuine remorse for killing Steenkamp and had been left “a broken man” by his ordeal.
A representative of South Africa’s Correctional Services Department recommended that Pistorius be punished with house arrest and community service.