Paralympic gold medalist Oscar Pistorius.jpg

Double-amputee Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was sentenced on Wednesday to six years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home in 2013.

"The mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating factors," said judge Thokozile Masipa, whose sentence was far below what had been expected.

The normal minimum murder sentence for a first-time offender is 15 years, and most experts had expected the 29-year-old athlete to get at least 10 years.

Pistorius fired four shots at Steenkamp through a toilet door in his home on February 14, 2013.

Just before she announced the sentence, the judge said: "Nothing that this court will do or say today will bring back the life of the deceased."

She added: "The life of the accused will also never be the same. He's a fallen hero who has lost his career."

During his trial from March 2014 to the following September, Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar, while the prosecution argued that he killed her after a quarrel.

Masipa accepted his version and sentenced him to five years for manslaughter. But in December 2015, the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the manslaughter verdict for murder, and Masipa had to issue a new sentence.

Weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors in her sentence, Masipa noted that "the accused used a lethal weapon, a high-calibre firearm ... and fired not one, but four, shots into the toilet door, knowing there was someone behind."

However, the athlete was not wearing his prosthesis and "felt vulnerable" in the presence of the imaginary intruder, according to the judge.

His shock at finding the wounded Steenkamp in the toilet and his frantic attempts to save her life showed he did not kill her on purpose, Masipa said.

Pistorius had also shown genuine remorse by making repeated attempts to meet Steenkamp's parents, who did not want to see him, according to the judge.

"Although a custodial sentence is a proper sentence I am of the opinion that a long-term sentence will not serve justice in this matter," she said.

Pistorius was a first-time offender, unlikely to reoffend, a good candidate for rehabilitation and had already served a year in prison, Masipa argued.

The judge said she was aware there was a widespread public perception that Pistorius had knowingly killed Steenkamp.

"Our courts are courts of law, not of public opinion," she said.

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