Family rejected Pistorius' money

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius offered $34,000 to the family of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp after he killed her, but the family rejected the funds because it did not want "blood money," a prosecutor said Tuesday at the sentencing hearing for the double-amputee athlete.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel also referred to separate payments of $550 that the Pistorius camp apparently made on a monthly basis to Steenkamp's family, but said those would be paid back in full. The revelations emerged while Nel was cross-examining a social worker who testified that Pistorius should be placed under house arrest, rather than sent to prison, after his conviction for culpable homicide, or negligent killing.

Social worker Annette Vergeer, one of four witnesses called by the defense, said South African jails are violent and overcrowded and that the athlete would be under particular duress because of his disability and fragile mental state resulting from the night when he fired four times through a toilet door in his home, killing Steenkamp. Pistorius testified he mistook her for an intruder about to attack him and denied prosecution assertions that he shot her during an argument.

Additionally, Vergeer said, Pistorius -- who in 2012 was the first amputee athlete to run at the Olympics -- has the potential to be a productive member of society again. A sentence of house arrest that includes periods of work at a school for disabled children would be more appropriate, she said.

Prison "will not assist him but will break him as a person," she said. "The exposure of the accused on his stumps to inmates will have a severe effect on him."

Prosecutor Nel challenged Vergeer, saying her knowledge of the South African prison system was limited and out of date. He asked why she didn't mention in her report on Pistorius that she knew the family of the woman he killed turned down a money offer. Nel also suggested the offer indicated that Pistorius, who lost lucrative international sponsorships after he killed Steenkamp, had significant funds at his disposal even though his defense team has said his resources had dwindled.

Judge Thokozile Masipa found Pistorius not guilty of murder for shooting Steenkamp, concluding he acted hastily and with excessive force but didn't intend to kill Steenkamp. The judge has wide latitude when deciding on a sentence. Pistorius, 27, could receive a fine and a suspended jail term or as many as 15 years in prison for the negligent killing.

Vergeer and another social worker called to testify by defense lawyers recommended that Pistorius be given a three-year correctional supervision sentence, which would place him under house arrest for periods and require him to do community service. Prosecutors insist that would be inappropriate and say Pistorius should be sent to prison, citing the level of negligence he showed on the night of the killing when he grabbed his 9 mm pistol and fired four times through the door without checking who was behind it.

Chief prosecutor Nel said the hollow-point bullets Pistorius used in the predawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013, did "terrible" damage to Steenkamp, who was hit in the head, arm and hip. Pistorius' lawyers have cited his emotional and financial suffering after the killing, and his disability, as reasons he shouldn't be sent to prison.

Family members of Pistorius and Steenkamp attended the second day of the trial's sentencing hearing, which is expected to last around a week. Pistorius mostly sat looking down during Tuesday's testimony.

Pistorius' agent, Peet van Zyl, testified about what he called Pistorius' extensive charity work before the shooting and said Pistorius had now lost all his product endorsements because of the killing.

Cross-examining van Zyl, Nel said, "You view Mr. Pistorius as a poor victim of this case." Van Zyl denied that.

Nel questioned Pistorius' motives for getting involved in charity work, saying it was a smart career move for athletes to lend their names to good causes to boost their image.

"They market themselves by being involved in charity," Nel said.

Van Zyl said it could be perceived that way, but added: "I think that a lot of sportsmen really want to make a difference and to contribute."

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