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Pistorius chose fight over flight, says defence witness

Mpho Raborife

Oscar's decision to face danger rather than flee was a reflexive response to what he perceived to be a threat, the Pretoria court heard on Wednesday.

Oscar Pistorius arrives at the Pretoria high court on Wednesday. (Gallo)

Murder-accused Oscar Pistorius’s decision to face potential danger instead of fleeing before he shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was a reflex, the Pretoria high court heard on Wednesday.

“A reflex is something you don’t have control over,” sports and exercise medicine professor at the University of Cape Town, Wayne Derman, told the court.

He used an example of a mother fighting a polar bear to save a child as an example of another fight-or-flight situation. When someone was in a dangerous situation, they either fought the danger or fled from it.

He said a study published in 2014 by the United States justice department, entitled Crimes Against Persons With Disabilities, said that in 2012, 38 out of every 1 000 people with disabilities were attacked compared with 16 able-bodied people.

Adults with disabilities were at a higher risk of being victims of violence.

“A disabled person is not vulnerable or an easy target per se. It is the particular situation in which they may find themselves,” an extract from the study reads.

Heightened response
Earlier, Derman read out an e-mail he received from a massage therapist he met in London, who used her legs to massage people after being born with a disability of the hands.

In the e-mail she explained to Derman how people without disabilities did not understand how heightened a disabled individual’s response to an unsafe situation could be.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel objected to Derman reading the e-mail, saying it was hearsay because the woman was not a witness and her opinion played no part in the trial.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled in Nel’s favour, stating that the evidence was irrelevant and inadmissible.

Hypervigilant
Derman, who has worked with Pistorius for six years, said Pistorius was hypervigilant. He described hypervigilance as “restless looking around and a constant scanning of potential threats”.

He said he noticed this on occasions where they had been together, such as in a dining hall or during one-on-one consultations.

Pistorius was an anxious individual who had hand tremors and a sleep disorder, which Derman had to medicate, the court heard.

He said during the opening and closing ceremonies of sporting events such as the Olympics, Pistorius would have exaggerated startled responses to the fireworks. Pistorius would cover his head and ears and cower until the noise ended.

Derman worked with Pistorius through assessments, consultations and as part of the South African team at the Beijing and London Olympics in his capacity as a physician.

He said Pistorius was cautious not to consume prohibited substances when he was sick. Derman said the athlete had never tested positive for doping.

Murder charge
Pistorius is charged with murdering Steenkamp on February 14 2013. He shot her through the locked door of the toilet in his Pretoria home, apparently thinking she was an intruder about to open the door and attack him.

She was struck in the hip, arm and head.

After firing the shots, Pistorius used a cricket bat to break open the door to get to a dying Steenkamp.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder and to three firearm-related charges. The state argues that he killed her during an argument.

Masipa ordered that the content of Pistorius’s psychiatric and psychological reports not be reported on, except the doctors’ conclusions on his mental state. A number of journalists had already tweeted about parts of the reports during proceedings.

Court was adjourned until 9.30am on Thursday. – Sapa

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