PRETORIA (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s double-amputee “Blade Runner”, was released on parole late on Monday, 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 Nov. 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 on Tuesday, and his early release took media by surprise.
Family spokeswoman Anneliese Burgess said on Tuesday that they were glad to have Pistorius home and that the athlete would observe his parole conditions closely.
“The family is 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 will 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’d 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.
Prosecutors argue that the verdict should be one of murder because Pistorius must have known that the person behind the door could be killed. Their appeal is due to be heard on Nov. 3.
The state will argue that the trial judge misinterpreted parts of the law. A murder conviction would result in a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
A panel of five judges will hear the appeal, which Pistorius is not obliged to attend. They could either reject the prosecution’s appeal, order a retrial or convict Pistorius of murder themselves, legal experts say.
Parole conditions already announced include that Pistorius, a gun enthusiast, must undergo psychotherapy and is not allowed to possess a firearm.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.
Louise Ferreira, a feminist activist and writer, was critical of how short a time he had spent behind bars in view of his crime.
“He might not have been found guilty of murder, but it was yet another instance of a South African woman killed by an intimate partner, and I don’t believe the time he spent in prison reflects the severity either of his crime or the epidemic of violence against women,” she said.
Additional reporting by Siyabonga Sishi in Pretoria and Stella Mapenzauswa and Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Catherine Evans