Oscar Pistorius, Former Olympic Runner and Convicted Murderer, Is Released from Prison

oscar pistorius walking with a police escort outside a courthouse
Oscar PistoriusGetty Images
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1986-present

Oscar Pistorius Now: Former Sprinter Released from Prison

Oscar Pistorius, the former South African Olympic and Paralympic star who killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, was released from a Pretoria, South Africa, prison on January 5. According to the Associated Press, Pistorius served almost nine years of his 13-year 5-month sentence.

Pistorius, now 37, fatally shot Steenkamp inside his home in February 2013. He testified that it was an accident but was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in December 2015.

His release comes after he was granted parole on November 24. Pistorius is banned from speaking to the media until the conclusion of his sentence in December 2029, and he must also complete community service and an anger management course. The former Olympian was released to his family, according to a Department of Corrections spokesperson, and is expected to initially live at his uncle’s mansion in the suburb of Waterkloof.

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Who Is Oscar Pistorius?

Oscar Pistorius is a former South African sprinter who became the first amputee to compete in track events at the Olympics. As an infant, both of Pistorius’ legs were amputated, but that didn’t stop him from becoming highly active in sports. He took up running at age 16, and within a year, he captured gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius began competing against able-bodied athletes and achieved his Olympic dreams at the 2012 London Games. The following year, Pistorius was arrested for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home. He served nearly nine years of a 13-year, five-month sentence for first-degree murder before being released on parole in January 2024.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius
BORN: November 22, 1986
BIRTHPLACE: Johannesburg, South Africa
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Sagittarius

Early Life

oscar pistorius smiles at the camera while holding a newspaper with a front page photo of him running, he wears a white polo shirt
Oscar Pistorius, seen here in September 2004 at age 17, became a Paralympic track star less than a year after he began competing.Getty Images

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born on November 22, 1986, in Johannesburg. The son of Henk and Sheila Pistorius, Oscar was the middle child of three. His family, while prominent in South Africa, lived a largely middle-class lifestyle.

Pistorius’ childhood was shaped partly by tragedy. His parents divorced when he was 6, a fact that largely contributed to a strained relationship between Oscar and his father, a businessman. His mother died when he was 15, the result of drug complications following a hysterectomy.

Pistorius’ own physical health was marred at birth. Born without a fibula in either of his legs, his parents decided to have their son’s legs amputated below his knees just before his first birthday. Within six months, Pistorius was walking successfully with a pair of prosthetic legs. His handicap hardly slowed his involvement in sports, which spanned to include cricket, wrestling, and boxing.

It wasn’t until he was 16 and in need of a sport that could help him rehab a knee injury sustained in a rugby match that Pistorius was introduced to track. His rise in the sport came quickly. In January 2004, he competed in his first 100-meter race. Nearly eight months later, 17-year-old Pistorius, wearing a pair of Flex-Foot Cheetahs, a lightweight carbon fiber foot, captured the gold medal in the 200-meter race at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

Olympic Milestone

oscar pistorius leaving the starting gate during an event at the olympic stadium
Oscar Pistorius competes at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.Getty Images

Following his win in Athens, Pistorius competed in several races in South Africa against able-bodied athletes. His success attracted greater attention, and European race organizers were soon inviting Pistorius to their events. He was nicknamed the “Blade Runner” and also called the “fastest man on no legs.”

However, his artificial legs became a source of controversy. In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF, today known as World Athletics) banned Pistorius from competing, stating that his artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes. Pistorius immediately appealed the ruling, and in May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned the IAAF decision.

After missing the cut for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a determined Pistorius focused his training on making the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. Along the way, the runner captured three gold medals at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships. Two more titles followed, in the 400-meter and 100-meter events, at the BT Paralympic World Cup.

In spring 2012, Pistorius realized his ultimate dream when he qualified for the 400-meter race at the London Olympics. Although he was eventually eliminated in the semifinal round, he secured his place in history by becoming the first amputee athlete to compete in track events at the Olympics. To mark the occasion, Pistorius flew out his 89-year-old grandmother to watch him race. “It’s just an unbelievable experience,” Pistorius said shortly after his first Olympic race. “I found myself smiling on the starting blocks, which is very rare.”

Reeva Steenkamp’s Murder, Trial, and First Sentence

reeva steenkamp and oscar pistorius smile at the camera while standing next to each other, both wear white shirts
Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius in January 2012 Getty Images

The track star made headlines of a different kind in February 2013, after his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead at his home in Pretoria, South Africa. According to police, Steenkamp was fatally shot in the head and arm on the morning of February 14. Pistorius was soon named a suspect in the case.

Five days after Steenkamp’s death, on February 19, during a hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, Pistorius admitted to unintentionally shooting Steenkamp at his home on Valentine’s Day. He went on to state that he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and shot her through a locked bathroom door. Consequently, Pistorius faced a charge of premeditated murder that carried a mandatory life sentence in the event of a guilty verdict.

On March 3, 2014, the trial for Pistorius began. In addition to being charged with premeditated murder, Pistorius also faced two separate gun indictments from incidents unrelated to Steenkamp’s death. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. Pistorius claimed he was frightened in his home at the noise of an unknown intruder and in a vulnerable state of mind without his prosthetic legs, causing him to shoot at the bathroom door.

Pistorius’ neighbor Michelle Burger testified that she heard a “blood-curdling” scream from a woman on the night of the murder, followed by a man yelling for help three times. Burger also claimed to have heard gunshots. Prosecutors accused Pistorius of having argued with Steenkamp on the night of the murder, resulting in her locking herself in the toilet.

As the trial progressed, Pistorius took the stand to defend himself. He first offered his apologies to Steenkamp’s family before continuing to claim that he shot her by accident. During his testimony, Pistorius broke down into tears. Some observers weren’t swayed by this show of emotion. Reports later surfaced that he had taken acting lessons before his court appearance, but Pistorius denied these claims.

oscar pistorius stands in a wood paneled room in a black suit and tie, people sit in rows behind him
Oscar Pistorius arrives for his sentencing hearing in October 2014 after being convicted of culpable homicide.Getty Images

After a recess of a few weeks, the trial resumed in May. Pistorius’ lawyers called a psychiatrist to testify that Pistorius suffered from a “generalized anxiety disorder,” according to the Los Angeles Times. This condition was introduced as a possible influence on Pistorius and his deadly actions. Judge Thokozile Masipa then called for another delay in the trial for Pistorius to undergo a full mental health examination by a team of psychiatrists.

Pistorius was determined to not have an anxiety disorder, according to the psychological report released in late June. His trial soon resumed and carried on for several more weeks before both sides presented their closing arguments. On September 11, Judge Masipa declared that Pistorius wasn’t guilty of premeditated murder. However, Pistorius was later found guilty of culpable homicide, and in October, he was sentenced to five years in prison.

On October 19, 2015, Pistorius was released from prison and placed under house arrest and correctional supervision for four years. In a speech given at Steenkamp’s former school in Port Elizabeth, her mother, June, said she had to forgive to move on with her own life: “I didn’t want him to be thrown in jail and be suffering because I don’t wish suffering on anyone, and that’s not going to bring Reeva back.”

Appeals, New Sentence and Release

oscar pistorius walking into court with a guard holding him back with one arm
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the Pretoria High Court for a hearing in December 2015 in South Africa.Getty Images

On December 3, 2015, the top appeals court in South Africa ruled that Pistorius was guilty of first-degree murder of Steenkamp. The court believed that a misinterpretation of laws combined with a dismissal of circumstantial evidence had caused prosecutors to offer the lesser charge of culpable homicide in 2014.

On the charge of first-degree murder, Judge Eric Leach said: “I have no doubt that, in firing the fatal shots, the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life... The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt.”

On July 6, 2016, Judge Masipa sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison for Steenkamp’s murder. However, this sentence was condemned by the South African National Prosecuting Authority on the grounds that it was far too lenient and “disproportionate to the crime.” In September 2017, it was announced that the Supreme Court of Appeal would hear the state’s argument against the six-year murder sentence, with a court date scheduled for November 3.

On November 24, 2017, shortly after Lifetime aired its original movie Oscar Pistorius: Blade Runner Killer, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal handed down a new sentence of 13 years and five months to the fallen sports hero. Upon delivering the verdict, Supreme Court Justice Willie Seriti noted that Pistorius failed to explain in multiple court hearings why he fired the fatal shots and didn’t seem genuinely remorseful. “The sentence of six years’ imprisonment is shockingly lenient to a point where it has the effect of trivializing this serious offense,” he said.

In response, the Steenkamp family lawyer said her clients “feel there has been justice for Reeva. She can now rest in peace.” At the time, it was unclear whether Pistorius planned to appeal the sentence to the South Africa Constitutional Court.

In November 2023, Pistorius was granted parole, becoming eligible after serving more than half of his sentence. He was released from a correctional facility in Pretoria, South Africa, on January 5, 2024.

Quotes

  • Sport is not about being the best, but it’s about giving your best.

  • I found myself smiling on the starting blocks, which is very rare.

  • When you wake up in the middle of the night—and crime is so endemic in South Africa—what do you do if somebody is in the house? Do you think it is one of your family? Of course you don’t.

  • To tell you the truth, I don’t think of myself as disabled. I have limits, but we all have limits, and like anyone else, I also have many talents.

  • At the end of the day, you’ve got to learn for yourself your limits and boundaries. That’s when you end up exceeding expectations, really.

  • I didn’t want to run if I was a cheat. I didn’t want to have the slightest doubts in my mind.

  • I believe in the purity of sport. I don’t like people who take short cuts.

  • All I want is not to spend my career discussing my legs. I’ve trained as much as anyone. I have sacrificed as much as anyone.

  • Losing isn’t the one that gets involved and comes last, it’s the person that doesn’t get involved in the first place.

  • I can’t bear the idea of looking back and thinking I could have done better.

  • Anyone can train hard for a short period. Winners give their best every hour of every day for months on end.

  • I’m no different. I happen to have no legs.

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