By Tanisha Heiberg
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African judge dismissed on Friday a request by state prosecutors to appeal Oscar Pistorius' six-year murder sentence, the latest twist in a trial that has captured global headlines.
The multiple gold medal-winning Paralympian, serving six years for murdering his girlfriend on Valentine's Day 2013, was not in court on Friday when the judge ruled that the state's petition had no reasonable prospects of success on appeal.
Women's rights groups in a country beset by high levels of violent crime against women say Pistorius has received preferential treatment compared to non-whites and those without his wealth or international celebrity status.
His backers say he did not intend to kill Steenkamp.
Judge Thokozile Masipa sentenced the Paralympic gold medalist to six years behind bars in July for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013, but the prosecution had said the decision was "shockingly lenient".
Pistorius' defense had earlier argued the state was prejudiced and had dragged the case on too long, adding in their court documents that "enough is enough".
"I'm not persuaded that there are reasonable prospects of success on appeal or that another court may find differently," Masipa said in her ruling, dismissing the state's application.
Masipa originally sentenced Pistorius in 2014 after he was found guilty of manslaughter, but that conviction was increased to murder by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in December. The subsequent six-year sentence she passed in July was also criticized by women's groups for being too lenient.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who had sought 15 years for Pistorius for the murder conviction, told Reuters he could not comment. Nel has said Pistorius had not shown any remorse and had yet to explain why he fired the fatal shots.
"His remorse and or prospects of rehabilitating could not be tested," Nel argued before Masipa's ruling, referring to Pistorius' decision not to testify at the sentencing hearings.
It was unclear whether the state would appeal Friday's ruling. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman was not available to comment.
'LIKELY TO APPEAL'
Both the Pistorius and Steenkamp families declined to comment following Masipa's ruling.
Pistorius, who had the lower part of his legs amputated when he was a baby, says he fired four shots into the toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home in the mistaken belief that an intruder was hiding behind it.
His defense has argued that his disability and mental stress that occurred in the aftermath of the killing should be considered as mitigating circumstances.
"This trial and this process has been exhausted beyond any conceivable exhaustive process," his main defense lawyer Barry Roux said in a brief rebuttal.
The track star was treated in hospital for wrist injuries earlier this month, but prison officials said Pistorius denied trying to kill himself. The incident coincided with the first day of competition in the Rio Olympic Games.
Friday's ruling raised further division, with South Africans taking opposite sides on the issue in social media.
Legal analysts were equally divided on whether prosecutors would appeal Masipa's ruling to the supreme court.
"In my experience over the years, the Supreme Court of Appeal has placed a lot of confidence in our High Courts, and I must say, I would be surprised if they had to accept the petition," said Johannesburg-based lawyer Ulrich Roux.
Criminal law attorney Zola Majavu said the state had a chance of success if they appealed to the supreme court.
"Remember it was the same SCA that overturned her conviction on culpable homicide. So if I were in Gerrie Nel's shoes I would persist so that the SCA can pronounce on the matter," he said.
(Additional reporting by Zimasa Mpemnyama; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Dominic Evans)