PRETORIA, South Africa — -- Oscar Pistorius tried to influence his sentence by giving money to the parents of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he is convicted of shooting to death, the prosecutor in the trial of the Olympic athlete claimed today.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel addressed the $530 (R6,000) monthly payments that Pistorius has made to June and Barry Steenkamp since shortly after Reeva Steenkamp's death in February 2013. Pistorius also recently sold his car for $33,000 (R375,000) offered the money to the Steenkamps.
The payments were revealed this week when the Steenkamps said they would remain "neutral" during the penalty phase of the trial and not testify against the man who killed their daughter.
"The offer is nothing but an attempt to influence sentence," Nel said during closing arguments in sentencing proceedings today while referring to the lump sum payment.
Nel said he was saddened when he heard that Steenkamp's parents were so financially strapped they had to take money from Pistorius. Barry Steenkamp's eyes moistened and he tugged on his white beard as he struggled to keep his composure.
The prosecutor questioned why the offer was made between Pistorius' conviction and the sentencing proceedings.
"If I heard that after this case was finalized Mr. Pistorius donated money... it would be different. But no," Nel said.
Nel said the parent's choice to remain neutral on sentencing was to avoid further trauma after months of grief following Steenkamp's death. He said the parents had Reeva Steenkamp's cousin, Kim Martin, speak on the family's behalf.
The prosecutor pointed out that June Steenkamp had rejected Pistorius' lump sum offered as "blood money."
The family said they would pay back the monthly payments, which totaled more than $9,000. Their lawyer claimed their financial situation has improved significantly since they were forced by their circumstances to accept the money from Pistorius.
Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux, referred the court to a statement issued by the Steenkamps about the issue earlier this week, in which they admitted receiving a monthly payment from Pistorius since shortly after their daughter's death. They also explained in the statement that they indicated their dire financial position to Pistorius' lawyers, after which he offered the money.
Nel today asked the court to sentence Pistorius to at least 10 years in prison while Pistorius lawyer urged the court spare him prison, claiming Pistorius is devastated with grief and broke spiritually and financially. Culpable homicide carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, but the judge has the discretion to set a lower punishment, even no prison at all.
Judge Thokozile Masipa said she will pronounce her sentence on Tuesday.