Getty Images

A South African judge sentenced Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius to six years in prison on Wednesday for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, drawing a close to a controversial case that's spanned three years.

Advertisement

The sentence is nine years short of the minimum prison term for murder in South Africa–and Pistorius could be eligible for release on parole as early as two years into his sentence.

In her sentencing, Judge Thokozile Masipa called 29-year-old Pistorius, 29, a "fallen hero," adding that he seems genuinely remorseful and is a good candidate for rehabilitation. Masipa said she saw no evidence that Steenkamp's murder was a case of domestic violence, despite public perception that it was.

Advertisement

Steenkamp, 29, died after Pistorius fired four gunshots into the closed bathroom door of his villa in an upscale Pretoria neighborhood in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Pistorius said he thought there was an intruder in the bathroom when he opened fire. In the initial investigation, neighbors said they heard two people arguing in the house in the lead-up to the gunfire. Steenkamp had sent messages to Pistorius previously saying she was sometimes afraid of him.

CBS News' Debora Patta was in the court room today for the sentencing:

South Africans and others from around the world expressed their outrage with the lenient sentencing and what they saw as a lack of accountability for a man who murdered his girlfriend. They picked apart aspects of the judge's reasoning for handing down less than the minimum sentence to Pistorius:

Some saw the sentencing as a case of the legal system being biased toward white men, and questioned whether the judgement would have been the same if Pistorius had not been known an internationally famous athlete before his trial:

Pistorius was originally convicted by the same judge of culpable homicide in 2014, a conviction more in line with manslaughter than murder, with a five year sentence. He served 10 months in prison on that conviction before being released to house arrest in August 2015–he's since been living at a relative's home in Pretoria.

Advertisement

Sponsored

But in December 2015, South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeals overturned that conviction and found him guilty of murder, finding that he must have know that he would likely kill whomever was behind the bathroom door, even if he didn't know it was Steenkamp. The appeals court sent the case back to Judge Masipa for sentencing.

A spokesperson for the Steenkamp family said they would not comment on the sentence. "The family has said it before they wanted the law to run its course. It has done so. No further comment. They will keep a dignified silence," Dup de Bruyn, the family's representative, told The Associated Press.

The state prosecutors have not announced whether they'll appeal the sentence and have two weeks to decide.