A South African judge sentenced former Olympic and Paralymic sprinter Oscar Pistorius to a maximum of five years in prison Tuesday for the culpable homicide of his girlfriend last February, though lawyers on both sides of the case later acknowledged that he is unlikely to serve his full sentence in prison.
Pistorius' defense team told Sky News that he would likely serve 10 months, or one-sixth of the term handed down by Judge Thokozile Masipa, before being released to serve the remaining time under house arrest. However, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority said that the man once known as "The Blade Runner" would likely serve 20 months behind bars, before stating that such matters were "not for the NPA to decide."
Judge Masipa also handed the double-amputee a three-year suspended sentence on a firearms charge. She ordered that sentence to be wholly suspended for five years on condition that Pistorius is not found guilty of another firearm offense.
Masipa last month convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, but acquitted him of murder after he testified he mistook Steenkamp for a nighttime intruder.
Masipa based the sentence on what she called the "gross negligence" of Pistorius, who shot Reeva Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home early on the morning of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius had testified that the shooting was an accident because he mistook his girlfriend for a nighttime intruder.
"The following is what I consider is a sentence that is fair and just both to society and the accused," Masipa said as she announced her decision.
She asked Pistorius to stand as she delivered the sentence, and the world-famous disabled runner faced her with his hands clasped in front of him. Pistorius then left the Pretoria courtroom down a flight of stairs that lead to holding cells. His sentence starts immediately and he was taken straight to the cells, a spokesman for the NPA told The Associated Press.
"Having regard to the circumstances in the matter, I am of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send the wrong message to the community," Masipa said. "On the other hand, a long sentence would also not be appropriate either, as it would lack the element of mercy.
"What may appear to be justice to the general public may not be justice. Society cannot always get what they want."
Steenkamp's mother, June, told Sky News that the sentence provided a measure of closure, but added that full closure was not possible "unless you can magic her back".
Nathi Mncube, the prosecution spokesman, said his office is disappointed in the culpable homicide conviction and has not yet decided whether to appeal the sentence.
"We have not made up our minds whether we're going to appeal it or not," he said. He added that there was an "appetite" to appeal but that prosecutors have 14 days to review their options.
"We are satisfied with the fact that he will be serving some time in prison," he said.
He said he thought the South African public would be satisfied because their justice system had been shown to be "functional."
"It's not only about vengeance but it is about making sure that there is a fair and just process," he said.
Masipa had a range of options for Pistorius' punishment. She could have issued a suspended sentence and a fine, meaning Pistorius would not have gone to jail. She could also have ordered him to go under house arrest or she could have sent him to prison for up to 15 years.
Pistorius' lawyers had argued for a three-year period of correctional supervision, where the runner would have been under house arrest. Prosecutors asked the judge to send him to prison for at least 10 years.
The courtroom was packed, reflecting heightened media and public interest ahead of the sentencing. Police officers stood guard in the aisles.
Before proceedings started, Dr. Lore Hartzenberg, a psychologist, held Pistorius' hand and spoke softly to him. Hartzenberg had testified for the defense that Pistorius was a "broken man" after killing his girlfriend and had suffered emotionally and financially.
A Pistorius supporter laid three white roses near him.
"I just wanted to bestow a little bit of inner happiness on Oscar," said the supporter, who added that she thought he had lost a lot of self-respect.
Outside the courthouse, a man in orange garb carried chains and a large sign that read: "Are certain offenders more equal than other offenders before the law?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.