Nel chips away at Oscar witness's expertise

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oscar july 5

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Murder-accused athlete Oscar Pistorius in the High Court in Pretoria for his trial. Photo: Antoine de Ras

Pretoria - A defence witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial has been lambasted by the state for his analysis of a psychiatric report despite not having the requisite qualifications.

Returning to the stand at the North Gauteng High Court on Monday morning was sports scientist Dr Wayne Derman.

Last week, he testified that Pistorius's reaction to a perceived danger on the night Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed was normal behaviour for someone in his circumstances.

According to Derman, Pistorius's behaviour was a product of a lifetime of living with a disability, a fear of crime instilled from childhood and physical training as an athlete that meant physical reactions to sound.

Pistorius has claimed that the reason he shot and killed his girlfriend was because he believed she was an intruder waiting insider his toilet cubicle.

On Thursday, prosecutor Gerrie Nel spent hours trying to undermine Derman's credibility and objectivity, suggesting the doctor was testifying on aspects of the case for which he wasn't qualified, and that his personal relationship with Pistorius had led to biased testimony.

On Monday morning, Nel continued his cross-examination by asking Derman about his expert testimony, and his statement that he did not believe there was a conflict of interest in providing it despite being Pistorius's treating physician.

Nel said Derman's brief was “very subjective”, and the doctor had already admitted that he was testifying about his own experiences treating “and travelling the world” with the athlete.

Derman said Pistorius was not a family member, and part of a team of individuals who used his services.

“As a physician, I can be objective,” said Derman.

Nel then asked if the doctor had any psychological or psychiatric degrees.

Derman said he did not.

The prosecutor said that Derman commented on the psychological effects provided in a report by a team of psychologists and a psychiatrist who recently examined Pistorius for 30 days.

“Do you feel yourself qualified to comment on the psychological testing and results?” he asked.

Derman said he was only commenting on the interpretation of the panel, not providing his own psychological analysis.

He said as a physician he was used to interpreting medical testing scores, and took inferences from the report, ans was not making a diagnosis.

He quoted a line from the report that outright said Pistorius did not have an anxiety disorder.

But Nel said that Derman had commented on the test itself - and Pistorius's score - used to determine this, despite having no knowledge of how it was conducted.

“None of this involves me making a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis,” said Derman

He also said he'd spoken with one of the psychologist's on the panel to understand the findings, but Nel said this would merely be hearsay evidence.

Nel brought up the Health Professions Act, which clearly states that psychological scores should only be interpreted by psychological professionals.

He then returned to Derman's testimony last week that he believed Pistorius “ran” down the passage on his stumps when he believed an intruder had entered his bathroom on the night of the shooting.

Nel asked if Pistorius could move fast on his stumps and whether Pistorius demonstrated his movements to Derman.

The doctor responded that he had asked Pistorius to demonstrate “running” on his stumps, but could not answer if Pistorius had held his arms forward or used a firearm to indicate his arm positions on the night of the shooting.

Nel questioned Derman on his supporting documents attached to the report he provided to the court last week.

He began with Derman's explanation of the fight-or-flight response.

Derman explained that in a tense situation where the mind enter's such a response, the “thinking” parts of the brain are less active and instincts partially take over.

On further questioning by Nel, he admitted that Pistorius could have fled from the situation rather than fight.

Last week, Derman testified Pistorius' balance was a major problem for the athlete while on his stumps.

“Did you ever consider the accused's version could be a lie?” asked Nel.

Derman answered that this was possible, and Nel asked why he never addressed this in his written report. Nel said that the report never reflected the state's own version of events, further showing Derman's bias.

Meanwhile, an earlier order stopping the media from reporting on Pistorius's psychology report was amended by Judge Thokozile Masipa.

“On Friday afternoon… I amended an earlier order that I gave on July 2,” she said.

“This was after it came to my attention that the attorneys representing the media and the defence attorneys (had come to an agreement).”

It was decided that the media could go ahead and publish information from two reports.

Three psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist observed Pistorius for 30 days at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital following a court order. Pistorius was a day patient.

shain.germaner@inl.co.za

The Star and Sapa

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.


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