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Can South Africa Finally Stop Caring About Oscar Pistorius Now?

More than three-and-a-half years after he killed his girlfriend, the amputee Olympian’s legal saga appears to have finally come to an end.

BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE.  PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 16 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing hearing in the Pretoria High Court on October 16, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but convicted him of culpable homicide. Sentencing continues today. (Photo by Alon Skuy/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE. PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 16 (SOUTH AFRICA OUT): Oscar Pistorius attends his sentencing hearing in the Pretoria High Court on October 16, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius not guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but convicted him of culpable homicide. Sentencing continues today. (Photo by Alon Skuy/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In August 2012, South African runner Oscar Pistorius stunned the world when he became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the Olympics — and managed to take home a gold medal in the London Summer Games.

But just months later, while South Africans were still reveling in his unprecedented athletic success, Pistorius shocked them yet again, this time when he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp with four shots through a bathroom door. Pistorius admitted to murdering her, but claimed he did so only because he mistook her for an intruder and believed he was acting in self-defense.

On Wednesday, almost three-and-a-half years after Steenkamp’s bloody body was found on the other side of that bathroom door, Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to a whoppingly short six years in prison — nine years less than the minimum 15-year sentence for murder in South Africa.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, the South African who handed him the decision on Wednesday, seemed to sympathize with Pistorius’s fall from grace.

“The life of the accused will never be the same,” she said. “He is a fallen hero, who has lost his career, and been ruined financially. He cannot be at peace.”

She justified his six-year sentence by claiming he did not deserve the typical 15 years because he already served some time, has expressed remorse, and agreed to rehabilitation.

Her hour-long judgment is likely the final capstone in a drawn-out case that cost the nation years of resources, and managed to transfix South Africans through the bitter end. Arrested on Feb. 14, 2014, Pistorius sobbed in court the next day when prosecutors announced they would would pursue premeditated murder charges against him. The trial — broadcast on live television in South Africa — dragged on until August of that year, pausing only when the same judge who sentenced him Wednesday ordered an assessment of his mental health.

In September 2014, Masipa sentenced Pistorius to five years in prison for culpable homicide, and just over a year later he was moved from prison to house arrest, where he expected to complete his sentence and move on. Instead, prosecution won their demand for an appeal of his sentencing, claiming that whether he believed his girlfriend to be an intruder or not, he should have realized that he was capable of killing someone when he fired those four shots.

Last month, in a final attempt to defend his actions, Pistorius removed his prosthetic legs and demonstrated his stumps to the court to prove that he would have more reason to be afraid of an intruder than someone else.

His lawyers now have two weeks to appeal the Masipa’s decision, though it is unlikely they will.

Masipa’s lightened sentence likely came as a relief to Pistorius, who the judge said Wednesday was “not a violent person,” despite his guilty murder charge in December.

South African observers, including women’s rights activists who have watched his fate unfold over the past three-and-a-half years, certainly did not all agree. Jacqui Mofokeng, a member of the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress told Reuters “the judgment is an insult to women.”

“It sends the wrong message,” she said.

Masipa didn’t seem to agree. Her decision Wednesday, which read largely as a defense of Pistorius, included a line dismissing allegations Pistorius plotted his girlfriend’s death.

“There is no indication at all that the deceased was in an abusive relationship,” she said.

Photo credit: Alon Skuy/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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