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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Olympian Oscar Pistorius will be released from prison on parole

Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius hands his mobile phone to his brother Carl after sentencing on July 6, 2016, at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Getty Images)
By Adela Suliman and Matt Bonesteel Washington Post

South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, who was imprisoned for the murder of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, will be released after a successful parole bid on Friday, South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services said in a statement.

The former Paralympic champion is serving a sentence of more than 13 years for the murder of Steenkamp, after he shot her at his home on Valentine’s Day in 2013. His televised trial made headlines around the world.

South Africa’s Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said Pistorius would be released from prison on Jan. 5.

It said that the decision was made after having “assessed Mr. Pistorius’ profile and other material submitted for the purposes of parole consideration.” It added that he was a “first-time offender” and had a “positive support system.”

“The programs that were contained in his correctional sentence plan were all completed,” department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told reporters before Friday’s hearing.

Pistorius, 37, was dubbed the “blade runner” for his speed on carbon-fibre prosthetic legs after becoming a double amputee as a child. He won six Paralympic gold medals and became the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics at the 2012 London Games and was hailed as a sporting champion.

Steenkamp was a model and paralegal. The couple had dated for months before Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door in his apartment in Pretoria. He claimed in court that he had mistaken his girlfriend, then 29, for a burglar.

June and Barry Steenkamp, the parents of Reeva Steenkamp, were “shocked and surprised” when they were informed of an earlier possibility of Pistorius’ parole eligibility, Tania Koen, a lawyer for the victim’s family previously told the Washington Post. June had forgiven Pistorius “because of her faith,” Koen said, and Barry found it “difficult but is ready to start a dialogue.” June Steenkamp did not attend Friday’s hearing because “I simply cannot muster the energy to face him again at this stage,” she said in a statement read by a family friend before Friday’s hearing (Barry Steenkamp died in September).

“I do not believe Oscar’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar,” June Steenkamp said in the statement. “In fact, I do not know anybody who does. My dearest child screamed for her life. … I believe he knew it was Reeva.”

A South African parole board originally denied Pistorius’ request for parole in March, ruling he had not served enough of his sentence. But the department of corrections overturned that decision last week, saying the parole board failed to account for the time Pistorius had served in prison while his murder sentence was being appealed.

In a statement, Pistorius’ lawyer, Conrad Dormehl, reacted to the parole board’s decision with gratitude and dissatisfaction.

“We welcome the Parole Board’s decision in ruling that Mr. Pistorius is to be placed on parole. In addition, and whilst we are grateful for the certainty which has been provided in relation to the date on which he will finally be released on parole, we are disappointed that the date is not sooner, particularly following the order handed down by the Constitutional Court which found that Mr. Pistorius was eligible for parole as early as March of this year.”

A South African judge originally convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, the equivalent of manslaughter, in 2014 after finding that prosecutors failed to prove Pistorius committed murder when he shot Steenkamp. Pistorius steadfastly claimed that he thought he was shooting at an intruder in his house.

In December 2015, prosecutors succeeded in having Pistorius’s original conviction overturned, and South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal found him guilty of the more serious murder charge, ruling that the lower-court judge misapplied the law in finding him guilty of the less-serious charge.