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Pistorius Disability Means He Confronts Threat, Doctor Says

Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp
A picture taken on January 26, 2013 shows Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/AFP/Getty Images

July 3 (Bloomberg) -- Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s disability meant he was more likely to confront a perceived threat than to flee, a University of Cape Town professor who worked with the double-amputee athlete told his murder trial.

“Mr. Pistorius’s significant disability when he is left without the benefit of his prosthesis does not allow him sufficient mobility or balance to protect himself and take flight,” Wayne Derman, a sports physician, told the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital.

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, is on trial on charges of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, whom he killed on Valentine’s Day last year. Pistorius says he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he fired four shots through a locked toilet cubicle door in a bathroom at his home. The prosecution says he killed her after an argument. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in his cross-examination that Derman has had a long relationship with Pistorius and was biased. Derman denied the allegation.

“I’m under oath, I have to provide the truth and that is what I’ll do,” he said.

Derman described Pistorius as “hyper-vigilant” with “an exaggerated fight response” and said he had a hand tremor and sleeping disorder.

The case was adjourned until July 7 after Nel asked for time to consult a psychiatrist.

‘Significantly Disabled’

“On the one end we’ve got an individual who in able-body competition constitutes one of the 15th or 18th fastest people in the world and is 1.84 meters tall and is pictured with arms-out crossing the finishing line,” he said. “On the other hand of the spectrum we see an individual who is significantly disabled, he does not have lower legs, he has stumps and he has stumps which are problematic and is 1.5 meters tall. So you’ve got a paradox.”

Defense lawyer Barry Roux has portrayed Pistorius as a victim of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp.

Nel has tried to show Pistorius as a short-tempered gun-lover who shot Steenkamp in a fit of rage.

Yesterday the court heard excerpts from a psychologist’s report that said Pistorius faces an increased risk of suicide unless he receives treatment for post-traumatic stress and depression.

Roux read out excerpts yesterday of the report, the result of a court-ordered monthlong assessment. It said Pistorius was traumatized by the death of Steenkamp.

Anxiety Disorder

“The degree of anxiety and depression that is present is significant, he is also mourning the loss of Miss Steenkamp,” Roux quoted the report as saying. “Should he not receive proper clinical care, his condition is likely to worsen and increase the risk for suicide.”

Nel responded by reading out from a separate report by three psychiatrists prepared over the same period that said Pistorius was suffering no mental disorder at the time of the killing.

“At the time of the alleged offenses the accused did not suffer from a mental disorder or mental defect that affected his ability to distinguish between the rightful or wrongful nature of his deeds,” Nel quoted the report as saying.

Nel had requested the assessment after a forensic psychiatrist, Merryll Vorster, called by the defense, said Pistorius has a generalized anxiety disorder that may have affected his actions when he shot Steenkamp.

Mental Health

Judge Thokozile Masipa issued a ban yesterday on reporting the details of the mental-health reports, besides what was read in court, even after the evaluations were handed out to journalists at the hearing.

Pistorius denies the murder charge and has pleaded not guilty to three separate gun-related charges.

Judge Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could also consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t intentional.

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February last year.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufactures the blades he uses.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andre Janse van Vuuren in Johannesburg at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at Karl Maier, Sarah McGregor

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