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A farmer who threw the body of his fired worker into a lions enclosure is out on parole after less than three years in prison, South African media reported Thursday.

Mark Scott-Crossley was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2005 for assaulting former employee Nelson Chisale and throwing his body to the lions at his game farm. The Supreme Court of Appeal reduced the sentence to five years, saying there was no proof that Chisale had been fed to the animals alive.

Only Chisale’s skull and some gnawed bones and bloody clothing were found.

The case made headlines around the world, not least because Scott-Crossley was white and the victim a poor black.

A prison official, Sarie Peens, was quoted as telling the South African Press Association that Scott-Crossley was moved from Baberton Prison in the north of South Africa and taken to a “reintegration” office where he was met by his family Thursday morning. The report did not give a reason for his early release, but it is common in South Africa for convicts to be released early to ease prison overcrowding.

“He is now being placed under strict conditions on parole until completion of his sentence,” SAPA quoted Peens as saying.

The Confederation of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, slammed the release.

“It is clear that those who are rich and white will continue to be treated differently to those who are poor,” it said.

In September 2007, the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside Scott-Crossley’s murder conviction and said that he was an “accessory after the fact.” It backdated his five-year sentence to September 2005.

COSATU criticized the fact that the Supreme Court had indicated that Chisale was dead before he was thrown to the lions, but did not rule on who killed him.

According to testimony given during the trial, Chisale was attacked with machetes and tied up for hours before being thrown into the lion enclosure. He had recently been fired from Scott-Crossley’s construction business at the game farm and was killed when he returned to collect some of his belongings.

Another farm worker was sentenced to 15 years for carrying out the assault, but the original trial judge said that Scott-Crossley was the mastermind.

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