Athlete Oscar Pistorius is due to return to court today as sentencing begins following his conviction for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
It is expected there will be several days of testimony and legal argument before High Court judge Thokozile Masipa decides what punishment to give the double-amputee poster boy for South African and Paralympic sport.
Pistorius was acquitted of pre-meditated murder and second-degree murder last month, but convicted of manslaughter – known in the South African judicial system as culpable homicide.
Sentencing is at the judge’s discretion and can range from a suspended jail term and a fine to 15 years in prison.
Pistorius has admitted killing law graduate-turned-model Ms Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year when he fired four shots through his toilet door. But he said it was a tragic accident and a case of mistaken identity – thinking the person in his bathroom was an intruder, and not his long-term girlfriend.
The judge criticised Pistorius for acting hastily when he shot the 29-year-old.
She said: ”The accused had reasonable time to think, reflect and conduct himself. The accused knew there was a person behind the toilet door, he chose to use a firearm.
”I am of the view the accused acted too hastily and used too much force. It is clear his conduct is negligent.”
Pistorius, nicknamed Blade Runner because of his prosthetic limbs, was released on bail until today’s hearing in Pretoria.
There is considerable difference among the predictions of South African lawyers over what sentence he will receive.
Some believe he will escape jail because his lawyers will convince the judge that the disabled first-time offender would suffer particular hardship in custody, while others suggest the seriousness of the offence means a prison term is inevitable.
George Bizos, a human rights lawyer, said: “I think that the probabilities are that the judge will send him to prison for a certain period, but not a very long one.”
Kelly Phelps, a senior public law lecturer at the University of Cape Town, claimed it was difficult to predict the outcome of the hearing because “sentencing law is so individually applied”.