Disgraced Paralympian Oscar Pistorius could be released from prison in South Africa ‘within weeks’ after serving half of his sentence for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home in 2013.
A parole board will consider Pistorius’ case on March 31, just over a decade after he fatally shot Ms Steenkamp four times through his bathroom door in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.
Ms Steenkamp’s parents, who oppose the idea of their daughter’s killer’s release, have no power to block it as criminals are automatically eligible for parole after serving half of their sentence.
Pistorius, 36, claimed during his trial that he believed Ms Steenkamp was an intruder, but was eventually found guilty of murder and sentenced to 13 years and five months.
The announcement of the parole hearing comes after it was revealed the ex-athlete will be given 24-hour police protection upon his release, due to fears of retaliation attacks.
Oscar Pistorius (right), now 36, murdered his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (left) on Valentine’s Day in 2013
Ms Steenkamp’s parents Barry and June originally forgave Pistorius, but now want him to spend life behind bars
Pistorius’ father, Henke, has now said that his son had become a spiritual leader behind bars in an interview with The Times. He claims he had even recruited a violent gang leader into his Bible study and prayer group.
‘I have no doubt that Oscar has changed the environment in the prison for the better,’ he said.
‘He is helping to mediate between people and is having a positive influence. He can feel he is making a difference to others who really needed a difference to be made — to give their lives meaning, purpose and some hope.
‘As a result, things have also improved for him. It’s a wonderful story.’
Meanwhile on the tenth anniversary of Ms Steenkamp’s death, her parents Barry and June revealed they want Pistorius to stay behind bars for life.
The couple originally forgave her former boyfriend for the killing, but changed their mind after he refused to admit to them that he killed her out of anger, as the court ruled.
Barry said: ‘I told Oscar directly that he had shot my daughter deliberately and he denied it. He stuck to his story that he thought it was an intruder.
‘After all these years we are still waiting for him to admit he did it in anger. That is all we wanted.
‘If he told me the truth, he would have been a free man by now and I would have let the law take its course over his parole.
‘But I was wasting my time. He is a murderer. He should remain in jail.’
The South African athlete, nicknamed Blade Runner after his racing prosthetics, had been a widely-celebrated Paralympian prior to the killing
Pistorius was initially convicted of culpable homicide before a Court of Appeal found him guilty of murder – but he was still only sentenced to six years in prison at first for the murder of Ms Steenkamp
The South African athlete, nicknamed Blade Runner after his racing prosthetics, agreed to meet the Steenkamps in prison as part of South Africa’s victim-offender dialogue programme.
He was flown from Pretoria to a detention centre close to their Port Elizabeth home in June last year.
Mr Steenkamp, who suffers poor health, was prepared to see Pistorius and hear ‘what he had to say.’
In the end, June, 76, who is originally from Blackburn in Lancashire, decided not to attend.
Instead wrote a letter which she gave to her husband to be read to Pistorius.
She told MailOnline: ‘I couldn’t see myself going without hurting him. I didn’t want to go to jail for attacking him. That would have been a great possibility.
‘Things haven’t got better. It gets worse as the time goes by because we miss Reeva every day that she is not here with us.
‘It’s very, very stressful that she couldn’t spend our last days with us because he took her.’
The Steenkamp’s legal representatives have continually challenged the amount of time Pistorius was ordered to serve.
The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria sentenced him to six years in prison in October 2014.
The multiple Paralympic champion was initially found guilty of culpable homicide – an offense comparable to manslaughter – for shooting Steenkamp with his licensed 9mm pistol.
He claimed at his trial it was a tragic accident and he mistook her for a dangerous intruder.
But prosecutors appealed the manslaughter finding and secured a murder conviction.
Pistorius was then sentenced to six years in jail for murder, causing prosecutors to again appeal what they called a shockingly light punishment for murder.
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp during the Feather Awards held at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg on November 4, 2012
South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal then more than doubled his sentence in 2017 to 13 years and five months’ imprisonment.
He is said to face severe threats to his own life if he is released at the end of March.
The athlete, who had a stash of 10 firearms including an AK-47, had already come on to the radar of Johannesburg’s underworld before the shooting for threatening one of the city’s notorious hardmen.
Pistorius, known as The Blade Runner after his racing prosthetic, had blasted a gun from a car sunroof and fired a handgun in a restaurant a few weeks before he killed 29-year-old Reeva, which brought him into the underworld’s focus.
During his trial, Johannesburg hardman and former professional footballer Marc Batchelor was a prosecution witness and a menacing figure in the public gallery as he told of his contempt for the athlete.
Batchelor was threatened by Pistorius, who said he would ‘break his legs’ over a dispute over a woman. Batchelor had also been a friend of Reeva’s and called for a life sentence for the athlete.
Officers will liaise with Pistorius’ family as to how best to keep him safe from harm once he wins his freedom and offer their support.
A police source told MailOnline: ‘Pistorius killed a young woman and that in itself is a major no-no as far as Johannesburg’s criminal fraternity is concerned.
‘He had also threatened Batchelor who still has many friends in the city and who have a huge distaste for Oscar Pistorius.
‘Oscar is a murderer, but once he has served his sentence, he should be able to re-build his life and live safely.
‘The police do not, of course, have any liking of murderers but they deserve full protection from any harm and that is what he will be given.
‘South Africa cannot afford to have any more violence connected to Pistorius and police will work very hard to ensure his safety.
‘We have received information that there are people who say he deserved to pay for killing a young woman.’