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Oscar’s vulnerability questioned in court

Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius and a member of his defence team during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria . REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee/POOL

Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius and a member of his defence team during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria . REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee/POOL

Published Jul 7, 2014


Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius' vulnerability and alleged lack of choice in confronting a perceived danger the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed has been under the microscope on Monday morning.

Last week, defence witness, sports scientist Wayne Derman, testified that Pistorius' overreaction to a perceived danger on the night Steenkamp was shot and killed was normal behaviour for someone in his circumstances.

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According to the doctor, Pistorius' 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.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned the studies (provided by Derman) on disabilities and a report he provided that showed people suffering from such issues were more likely to be victims of violent crime.

But Nel said the report mainly referred specifically to people with mental disabilities.

Derman said it referred to various categories of disability, and that it was the mentally handicapped that suffered the brunt of the violence.

He said that due to the nature of science, every study had some flaws, but insisted it did not make his argument that physically disabled people were also more likely to be targeted by violence.

Nel then referred to another article on “disability hate crimes”, and Derman said that in the United Kingdom, a law had to be introduced to combat the crimes against the disabled.

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Nel argued that Pistorius was less vulnerable than the average disabled person, with access to alarms in his house, firearms and support structures.

“I don't know if that would reduce his vulnerability absolutely,” Derman responded.

Last week, Derman testified that Pistorius heard three sounds that triggered the athlete's “startle” response. The first was the sound of the window in the bathroom opening, the second the toilet door closing while the third was the sound of what is believed to be the magazine rack moving inside the toilet cubicle.

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This morning, Derman said he only knew about the last sound from Pistorius himself and struggled to define exactly what that would sound like.

Nel asked if Pistorius saw the door opening after hearing the noise, but Derman said he could not recall this, and later admitted the athlete said nothing of the toilet door after hearing it close. He was unable to confirm Pistorius' own testimony that he thought he heard the sound of wood moving.

He then asked if Pistorius' overreaction to perceived threats meant the athlete was a danger to society, and Derman said he could not answer that.

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Nel returned to the magazine racks movement, and said that Derman's bias showed in that he claimed he had a “fuzzy” recollection of what Pistorius told him.

Nel put it to Derman that Pistorius fired through the toilet door with the intention of killing the person behind it.

“Your evidence in no way affects his intention,” said Nel.

In his re-examination, defence advocate Kenny Oldwadge asked about Pistorius' vulnerability and anxiety.

He asked if Pistorius really did have an option to flee the night of the shooting.

Derman said that if Pistorius felt the threat was faster than him, running wasn't an option, and the athlete was forced to confront the danger.

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