Steenkamps won't pursue civil suit

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PRETORIA, South Africa -- The parents of Reeva Steenkamp will not pursue a civil claim against Oscar Pistorius for killing their daughter and will pay back cash he gave them because they don't want his money, they said Wednesday in a statement that was read out during the athlete's sentencing hearing.

Barry and June Steenkamp will pay back around $10,000 that Pistorius gave them in monthly installments for nearly two years to help with their living expenses, they said in a statement initially released through their lawyer.

Pistorius' chief defense lawyer, Barry Roux, later read the statement in court, and said that Pistorius gave the parents the money "unconditionally" and didn't want it back.

Pistorius, 27, was found guilty last month of negligently killing his girlfriend. He could face years in prison, although he could also receive a suspended jail term and a fine.

Revelations over payments made by the double-amputee Olympic runner to the parents of the woman he shot multiple times in his home on Feb. 14, 2013, were made earlier during the hearing. The chief prosecutor said the Steenkamps had turned down another settlement offer of $34,000 from Pistorius -- which came from the sale of his car -- because they considered it "blood money."

"When the parents were made aware of this offer, they considered it carefully but decided, for various reasons, that they did not want any payment from Mr. Pistorius," the statement from Steenkamp lawyer Dup de Bruyn said. "This is also why we were instructed to advise that no civil claim would be instituted."

Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for acting negligently in Steenkamp's death when he shot her through a toilet cubicle door on that day in February 2013, but he was acquitted of murder.

The money he gave her parents was first raised in a report by a social worker testifying for the defense, which is aiming to show that Pistorius has shown remorse for what he claims was a tragic accidental killing and shouldn't be sent to prison. Prosecutors maintain Pistorius should serve prison time, citing the level of negligence he showed when he shot four times through a door with his 9 mm pistol.

Lawyer de Bruyn said he had advised the Steenkamps to remain "neutral" with regard to Pistorius' sentence, but they were "quite surprised" that Pistorius' lawyers had first raised the payments in court. Pistorius had asked the Steenkamps to keep them confidential, de Bruyn said.

The Steenkamps accepted monthly payments of $550 from Pistorius from March 2013 -- weeks after their daughter's shooting death -- until last month because they were in "financial difficulties," they said. Reeva Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV star, had helped her parents out with money.

De Bruyn said he had also approached Pistorius' legal team over a possible civil settlement and Pistorius made the $34,000 offer after selling what he said was his last asset, a car. The parents considered it and turned it down.

The world-famous athlete has had to sell many of his assets, including the luxurious house where he killed Steenkamp, to pay his high-powered defense team during a lengthy murder trial.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide Pistorius' punishment and has wide latitude. The judge could send him to prison for as many as 15 years or order a fine and a suspended sentence. House arrest is also an option, and has been suggested by two social workers called by Pistorius' defense.

Arguing that he has suffered emotionally and financially already, Pistorius' lawyers say the judge should be lenient, and have called two social workers who testified that three years of house arrest and community service would be a suitable sentence.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel reacted incredulously to the recommendation of one of the social workers, Annette Vergeer, saying that correctional supervision and 16 hours of community service a month was a "shockingly inappropriate" sentence.

"It cannot even be considered," Nel said.

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