Surprise witness at Oscar trial

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Defence lawyer Barry Roux questions a witness during the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday. Picture: Werner Beukes

Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius's remorse over killing Reeva Steenkamp has been under the microscope in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday, as a surprise witness took to the stand to say just how broken the athlete is.

The second witness called to the stand for the defence was Yvette van Schalkwyk, a social worker with the Department of Social Development.

Van Schalkwyk said had first met with the athlete the day after the shooting when she was called on to counsel him emotionally.

The witness said she had recently read media reports that suggested Pistorius had received acting training for his case, and this had upset her greatly.

She said this was what had caused her to come forward and testify on Pistorius's sincerity.

From the first second she saw him, Van Schalkwyk said Pistorius appeared heartbroken, and was particularly upset about the damage he had done to Steenkamp's family and friends.

Defence advocate Barry Roux said the State put it to Pistorius while on the stand that he did not feel anything for Steenkamp or her family, only that he felt sorry for himself.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said he couldn't see the relevance of bringing Van Schalkwyk to the stand. But Roux argued that she was key in proving his client's sincerity.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that Van Schalkwyk was a relevant witness.

Van Schalkwyk continued, saying Pistorius had cried 80 percent of their time together. He told her of his plans for the future with Steenkamp.

After Pistorius was granted bail, she was assigned to monitor the athlete’s mental health and provide reports on a weekly basis.

In her March 1, 2013 report, it read that Pistorius was emotionally drained from the traumatic events leading up to and including his family's small memorial service for Steenkamp at his uncle's home.

Later in March 2013, she wrote that Pistorius's psychologist had said he was still experiencing physical and emotional reactions because of his state of mind. She also said that Pistorius was persistently monitored for prohibited substances.

A later report said that Pistorius was not suicidal but was still receiving regular counselling.

Later, she reported that Pistorius was making slow but steady improvement emotionally and psychologically.

At the time of his bail application, Van Schalkwyk said that Pistorius had wept much of the time, and had even vomited twice during her visits.

She said she would often meet him at his home and his training grounds.

Nel began his cross-examination by asking whether or not Pistorius felt sorry for himself.

“He said he suffered a loss and he misses Reeva,” said Van Schalkwyk, who disagreed with the implication.

She admitted that prior to Pistorius she had never counselled a murder accused shortly after their respective incidents.

Nel said it didn't make sense that the man who shot and killed his girlfriend was pining for her.

Van Schalkwyk said Pistorius had told her he had accidentally shot Steenkamp.

But Nel jumped on this saying that Pistorius's current version of events was that he thought he was under attack by intruders, which was why he opened fire.

The prosecutor then argued that much of the information in her reports originated from Pistorius's psychologist.

She was then asked about why she had decided to come forward to testify. Van Schalkwyk said she had read reports about Pistorius allegedly manipulating his emotions for sympathy.

But she claimed she had not been watching the case and had not seen him crying on the stand.

Nel said that anyone in Pistorius's position during their initial consultations would have been emotional after being arrested.

Pistorius had told the social worker that he was “barely coping”, but repeatedly told her he missed Steenkamp. Nel said one thing she hadn't mentioned was whether or not Pistorius was “sorry” for what he had done.

But Van Schalkwyk said they did not talk about the merits of the case, and that he had only said he was sorry for the loss.

Nel said this apology was self-centred and Pistorius had only worried about his own loss.

Van Schalkwyk responded that this was normal, as the athlete had “just lost the love of his life”.

She added it was difficult to determine if a person had sincere remorse but Pistorius was extremely emotional when they first met.

The social worker told the court she learned about the merits of the case through Pistorius's bail application.

Nel asked, if in her experience as a social worker, it was unusual that Pistorius had not directly apologised for what he had done.

She evaded the question, once again saying that she had never discussed the merits of the case with the athlete.

Nel said that while it was unlikely, he may make an application in the future to recall Van Schalkwyk if he had any further questions.

In his re-examination, Roux asked Van Schalkwyk to confirm that Pistorius had told her that he thought an intruder was coming into his home.

The trial continues.

shain.germaner@inl.co.za

The Star

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