Convicted paralympian Oscar Pistorius has been making financial payments to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he killed last Valentine's Day, since shortly after the fatal shooting and he intends to set up a trust fund for the family once the sentencing is over, according to testimony at his sentencing trial today.
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The financial revelation came as a probation officer warned the court that if the legless Pistorius is sentenced to prison he would be vulnerable to attacks by other inmates, particularly if his prosthetic legs were taken away from him.
Probation officer Annette Vergeer was the second law enforcement official to suggest Pistorius be spared prison despite being convicted of culpable homicide - the equivalent of manslaughter - in Steenkamp's death. On Monday, a corrections social worker urged the court to sentence Pistorius to three years of house arrest along with community service.
Pistorius, a champion sprinter known as the Blade Runner for his prosthetic blades, could be sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison.
Vergeer also told the court that Pistorius has been making monthly payments of $530 (6,000 Rand) a month to the Steenkamp family since March 2013, one month after their daughter's death.
The probation officer said the Pistorius sold his car for about $34,000 (375,000 Rand), but the Steenkamps rejected the money, Vergeer said.
"Mrs. Steenkamp said she did not want blood money," prosecutor Gerrien Nel said. Nel also said that the Steenkamps intended to repay the money from the monthly payments to Pistorius.
Earlier, Pistorius' agent Peet Van Zyl said that the sprinter intended to create a trust fund for the family once the trial was concluded.
After court today, Steenkamp family lawyer Dup de Bruyn said the Pistorius' payment allowed June and Barry Steenkamp to pay rent and other living expenses, but the lawyer said they are in a position to repay Pistorius the $9,500 he gave them. The lawyer said it was June Steenkamp who described the payments as "blood money."
"If you haven't got money, I don't think its' too difficult to accept anything," de Bruyn said.
The lawyer said the parents wanted to make the payments public, but Pistorius requested that they remain confidential.
The parents also said they have dropped their civil suit claims against Pistorius.
Pistorius, 27, killed Steenkamp, 29, when he fired four shots through a locked bathroom door. Pistorius claimed that he feared an intruder was in the bathroom. Judge Thokozile Masipa rejected murder charges last month and convicted him of the lesser count of culpable homicide.
Vergeer, testifying on the second day of Pistorius' sentencing phase, said he should not be sent to prison because with violence and overcrowding rampant in South African jails and the athlete vulnerable to attacks.
She said Pistorius would be especially vulnerable without his prosthetic legs. She believes he has the potential to be a productive member of society again, and suggested a three-year period of correctional supervision outside of prison.
"The exposure of the accused on his stumps to inmates will have a severe effect on him,” Vergeer said.
On Monday, Pistorius' psychologist Dr. Löre Hartzenberg testified that Pistorius was devastated by Steenkamp's death.
"We are left with a broken man who has lost everything. He’s lost his relationship with Reeva Steenkamp, he’s lost his moral and professional reputation. He’s lost his friends. He’s lost his career,” Hartzenberg said. “On an emotional level, his self-perception and self-worth have been damaged.”
Pistorius' sentencing hearing is expected to last around a week. While the prosecutor has not indicated how many witnesses he will call, it is expected that Pistorius' ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor would be among them.
It is unclear if Steenkamp's parents will testify, although there are indications they won't be called to the stand. After witnesses are called on both sides, the state and defense will deliver closing arguments.
The judge will only indicate once all the evidence has been heard when she will make her decision known.