Euthanasia advocate Professor Sean Davison says he accepted a plea deal for three premeditated murder charges because the stakes were too high.
His organisation Dignity SA released a statement from him on Wednesday, just hours after he pleaded guilty to the charges in the Western Cape High Court and received an effective three years house arrest as part of a plea and sentencing agreement.
"I know there will be many people disappointed that I accepted a plea bargain, and did not go to trial. If I had done this I may have been found not guilty, and thereby lead to a law change," he said in the statement.
"However, I was facing three life sentences in prison and the stakes were too high. I have three young children and my children want a father not a martyr."
Davison, 58, thanked the thousands of people who had sent him messages of support and encouragement.
"The nine months since my arrest has been a harrowing journey, and this kind support has made it bearable."
Davison was sentenced to eight years, wholly suspended for five, with him ordered to do three years of community service and with his movements being severely restricted.
The court found that he had shown remorse, that families of the deceased were consulted, and there were compelling circumstances to deviate from the 15 year minimum sentence required for murder. He is also allowed to continue working.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC), where he works in the department of biotechnology, said that his three murder convictions would be considered by management.
"The University of the Western Cape notes the court finding related to Prof Davison, currently in the employ of the university," said spokesperson Gasant Abarder.
"The university respects the court's decision and due process. It will however not comment on the finding."
He said the university is bound by the parameters of its human resources (HR) policies and the labour laws of South Africa.
"Any decisions about this matter will be taken by the executive management in consultation with the university's HR and legal services."
The sudden plea and sentencing agreement caught many off guard, as the controversial matter of him helping three people end their lives because they were not able to do it themselves, was expected to have gone to trial and broadened debate on the topic.
After Davison's arrest last year, he said he had done nothing wrong. He is a co-founder of DignitySA, which advocates the right to die with dignity for people who are gravely ill or injured and do not want to go on living, but are unable to end their own lives.
In 1995 he took up an academic post at UWC, initiating a molecular virology research programme.
In 2004 he founded the Forensic DNA Laboratory with a particular focus on human rights related crimes.
The laboratory developed a DNA rape kit to assist forensic casework, and identify individual perpetrators of a gang rape. The laboratory offers a free DNA testing service to the police to assist in identifying the perpetrators of rape in South Africa, according to the website.
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