Pretoria: Lawyers for Reeva Steenkamp's family on Wednesday expressed shock that Oscar Pistorius's defence team revealed details of secret "blood money" payments during a heated courtroom arguments over his sentencing. In a statement on behalf of the slain model's parents, lawyers said they had "honoured" a request from the athlete not to reveal payments of $540 made each month after Pistorius killed her on Valentine's Day 2013.
A weeping Oscar Pistorius is comforted by his brother Carl Pistorius during the sentencing hearing at the Pretoria High Court yesterday. Pic/AFP
"We were therefore quite surprised yesterday when this fact was disclosed in court without any prior warning to us," the statement said. During a sentencing hearing Tuesday, a defence witness referred to the payments as evidence that Pistorius was remorseful about shooting his 29-year-old girlfriend four times through a bathroom door, believing she was an intruder.
The revelation prompted angry suggestions that Pistorius's team had opportunistically revealed the payments to reduce his likelihood of going to jail. The Paralympian star athlete was found guilty last month of unlawfully killing Steenkamp but acquitted of the more serious charge of murder. Judge Thokozile Masipa could rule on his punishment as early as Friday, with her options ranging from a fine to 15 years in prison.
Claims about Pistorius's vulnerability and remorse could be central in deciding which way the scales of justice tip. The defence has suggested Pistorius clean a museum for 16 hours a week as punishment for killing Steenkamp, drawing a furious reaction from the state. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel described the suggestion as "shockingly inappropriate".
On Tuesday, a visibly irate Nel told the court that the Olympian also offered the dead model's family a one off "blood money" payment of nearly $35,000, which the family rejected. "Did the legal team of the accused tell you that the deceased family rejected the offer of 375,000 (rand)?" Nel asked witness, probation officer Annette Vergeer. Stenekamp's parents have said they will repay the roughly $10,000 received from Pistorius "as soon as arrangements can be made in that regard".
"It was always the intention of the parents that the amounts... would be set-off against any civil claim that they were going to institute," the statement said. The parents have now decided not to continue with a civil claim. - Courtroom tension - The sentencing hearing continued on Wednesday with Vergeer being cross-examined by the prosecution.
She had warned that a jail stretch would "break" Pistorius and claimed it was not in the interest of justice. "Without legs he will be vulnerable and a lot more vulnerable than the normal man," said Vergeer, a parole officer 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.
South Africa's department of correctional services has said Pistorius could be entitled to separate accommodation "depending on the vulnerability caused by the disability". There is little doubt that the prison system in South Africa is in a bad state, with violence, overcrowding and criminal behaviour all endemic.
Since the hearing began on Monday, the tone in court has become increasing terse. Prosecutors have poured scorn on the defence's portrayal of the double amputee known as the "Blade Runner" as a caring and charitable athlete. Nel told the sentencing hearing that Pistorius's charity work was nothing unusual for a superstar athlete, arguing he was primarily motivated by personal fame and fulfilling his contractual duties with major sponsors, including Oakley and Nike.
"It is merely an advancement of your career to become involved," Nel said in a scathing cross-examination of Pistorius's long-time manager, Peet van Zyl. "I think a lot of sportsman want to make a difference and contribute," replied Van Zyl. The state has indicated it will call at least two witnesses, whose testimony is expected to wrap up on Wednesday or Thursday. Both the state and defence have 14 days to appeal Masipa's decision. The trial, which began on March 3, was broadcast live on television and radio, feeding intense local and international media interest.