Pistorius lawyers challenge prosecution’s right to appeal

Pistorius lawyers challenge prosecution’s right to appeal

JOHANNESBURG - Oscar Pistorius's lawyers were in court Friday to make a last-ditch attempt to stop an appeal that could see the fallen Paralympian hero face a stiffer verdict and significantly more time behind bars for the Valentine's Day's killing of his model girlfriend.

Pistorius's defence argued in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg that the state's appeal of a judge's decision finding the champion sprinter not guilty of murder was unsubstantiated.

The 28-year-old Paralympian was found guilty of culpable homicide last year - a charge akin to manslaughter - and sentenced to five years in prison for shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013.

State prosecutors were in December granted permission to appeal the trial verdict, arguing that Judge Thokozile Masipa misinterpreted the law when she ruled Pistorius did not intentionally kill his girlfriend when he shot four times at a locked toilet door.

But Pistorius's legal team say his conviction was based on facts presented during the trial, not on an interpretation of law, and therefore cannot be appealed.

It's a move legal experts described as unorthodox.

"The whole thing is highly unusual," said Kelly Phelps, a senior law lecturer at the University of Cape Town. "This is uncharted territory."

Despite the unusual tactic, Phelps said that the defence may have a strong argument in favour of getting the Pistorius appeal tossed out, paving the way for the athlete to be released from jail this year.

"I think they have a fifty-fifty chance of winning this," she said. "The defence's papers were very well drafted, very well reasoned, and backed up with authority. In that sense, I think they probably feel that they do have quite strong grounds for this."

During the trial, Pistorius testified that he shot Steenkamp believing she was an intruder, while the state argued he deliberately killed the 29-year-old law graduate, model and reality television star after an argument.

If an appeals court found him guilty of murder, the athlete - known as the "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic legs he wears on the track - could face at least 15 years in jail.

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