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When Will Oscar Pistorius, An Olympian Who Shot His Girlfriend To Death, Be Released From Prison?

Oscar Pistorius is currently behind bars for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, during a controversial shooting.

By Gina Tron
Oscar Pistorius is surrounded by cameras while attending court for his sentencing hearing

Oscar Pistorius’ fall from grace was both well-publicized and controversial: He quickly went from beloved athlete to divisive killer after he shot his model girlfriend to death.

The South African athlete's rise and fall is detailed in ESPN’s new “30 for 30” four-part docuseries, “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius.” It dives deep into the night of the shooting and his subsequent court battles as well as his challenging childhood; after his legs failed to develop due to a birth defect, he underwent a double amputation before he was a year old. Still, he played rugby and other sports in high school and was introduced to running in 2004, the same year a teenage Pistorius turned heads at the 2004 Summer Paralympics. He received a bronze medal after competing on his famous running blades, which inspired his “Blade Runner” nickname.

He continued to run and fought to enter non-disabled competitions. He then made history when he became the first double-leg amputee competitor ever after being accepted into the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

As the docuseries shows, he was an inspiration and a hero to South Africans and people abroad alike, but that admiration soon turned to disgust after he killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, inside his Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day 2013. 

He claimed that he killed Steenkamp — a well-known model, paralegal, and advocate for survivors of rape and domestic violence — by accident, saying he had mistaken her for an intruder. He had fired four shots through the toilet door in his bathroom, killing his girlfriend. Pistorius said he had perception deprivation from loud fans and a dark room, and thought Steenkamp was still in bed when he heard the bathroom door screech open, according to the docuseries.

His allegations were controversial and dividing, as the documentary shows. While some believed his story, others felt Steenkamp was the victim of gender based violence. But a court seemingly sided with Pistorius — at least, at first. 

A judge cleared Pistorius of murder in 2014. Instead, he was found guilty of culpable homicide, a conviction comparable to manslaughter, The Guardian reported at the time. He was also found guilty of reckless endangerment for shooting off a gun in a restaurant a month before the deadly incident. He received a maximum of five years for the culpable homicide conviction, and was also given a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for the reckless endangerment conviction.

Pistorius only served a small portion of that sentence behind bars. By the following year, he was let out of prison on early release and put on house arrest, South African outlet The Citizen reported in 2015.

But before he was released, prosecutors took issue with his sentence, which they called  “shockingly light, inappropriate and would not have been imposed by any reasonable court,” in an appeal request, according to a 2014 The Guardian report. Their appeal was heard in 2015 by a South African Supreme Court of Appeal. The court unanimously overturned Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction and found him guilty of murder instead, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. They rejected his self-defense claim and ruled that it didn’t matter who Pistorious thought was behind the door; they decided he must have known that his actions would have killed whoever it was in there, according to The Guardian in 2015.

Pistorious was sentenced to six years behind bars for the murder conviction in 2016. At first, it appeared he would have been eligible for parole by 2019, The Telegraph reported. However, prosecutors appealed that short sentence and by 2017, a judge more than doubled his sentence to 13 years and four months, the BBC reported in 2017.

He could be out of prison in as early as just three years. He becomes eligible for parole in 2023, The Guardian reported in 2017.

All four episodes of “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius” are available for streaming on ESPN+.