Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian described by a judge as a “fallen hero,” was sentenced on Wednesday to six years in a South African prison for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, in a ruling viewed by some as no harsh enough for the crime committed.

However, Judge Thokozile Masipa knew criticism was coming with a jail term that fell far short of the normally mandated 15 years for murder under South African law, declaring: “Our courts are courts of law, not courts of public opinion.”

Oscar Pistorius sentenced
(Reuters)

In the heavily publicized case, Pistorius, 29, maintained he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star, by mistake thinking she was an intruder hiding in the bathroom early on Valentine’s Day 2013. Prosecutors alleged that he killed her intentionally after the couple argued.

He made history by running at the 2012 Olympics on his carbon-fiber running blades and was one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

Pistorius will be eligible to apply for parole after three years, according to legal experts. Prosecutors, who had asked that he be sentenced to 15 years in prison, can appeal for a heavier sentence but have yet to comment on whether they will do so.

“The family accepts the judgment,” Anneliese Burgess, a spokeswoman for the Pistorius family, said outside the courthouse.

“He’s a fallen hero — he has lost his career and he is ruined financially,” said Masipa, who originally convicted Pistorius of manslaughter, a ruling that was overturned by an appeals court that instead convicted him of murder and sent the case back to her for sentencing.

Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, were present in the courtroom, which was packed with relatives of both Pistorius and Steenkamp, journalists and other observers.

Pistorius’ defense lawyers had asked for no jail time at all, saying he should be allowed to do charity work with children.

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