Pistorius witness: He shot to ‘nullify’ the threat

2014-07-03 18:02

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Oscar Pistorius’ star witness has conceded under cross-examination that the athlete shot to “nullify” the threat in his toilet.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel today began a relentless, and at times difficult, cross-examination of Professor Wayne Derman, a sports scientist and physician who has known and treated Pistorius as a patient for six years.

A central line of Nel’s cross-examination was whether Derman could really be an objective witness, given the fact that Pistorius was Derman’s patient.

The cross-examination became tedious as Derman frequently testified that he didn’t understand Nel’s questions and said he could not testify about the facts of the case outside what he had been told by Pistorius and what he had gleaned from reading the court record.

This was after Derman had testified, as an expert witness for the defence, about the fact that disabled people and anxious people had less conscious control over their actions when experiencing a fight or flight response.

A fight or flight response is a subconscious response to danger, which governs whether people flee or stay to fight.

Derman believes Pistorius had three of these reactions on the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed, causing him to react unthinkingly.

He also spent the morning testifying passionately about the personal, emotional and professional difficulties faced by people such as Pistorius, who were disabled as a result of amputation.

“Disability never sleeps, it’s there when you go to sleep at night and it’s there when you wake up,” he said.

When Nel began his cross-examination, he immediately jumped on the issue of whether Pistorius wasn’t “more than a patient to you”.

He also questioned whether Derman could really be relied upon to give objective evidence to the court, given the fact that he had known Pistorius for six years and had treated him.

Nel then moved on to a line of questioning about the three fight or flight responses that Pistorius supposedly had as a result of hearing three noises, or “startles”, that induced the fight or flight response on the night he killed Steenkamp.

Nel began by pointing out that Pistorius had heard the first noise, then got his gun before advancing cautiously down the passage towards the bathroom.

The prosecutor was trying to show that Pistorius had time for conscious thought after he was first frightened and before shooting, but a concession along these lines proved difficult to obtain from the witness.

At one point, Derman complained that he didn’t understand the “point” Nel was making or the “sequencing of the questions”.

Judge Thokozile Masipa replied: “I’m not sure that it should be your concern, counsel decides how he is going to ask his questions. If you cannot assist because you don’t know, you simply say you don’t know.”

Nel repeated: “In an incident like this where there’s a startle, with accused finding a gun, knowing where it is, getting a gun ready to fire, going to the bathroom, killing someone, would that still make sense to you if there was just one startle?”

“No, there would need to be more startles,” replied Derman.

Nel later moved on to Pistorius’ potential motives at the time of the shooting.

“If I put it to you that ... he heard a sound and he fired at the sound to kill the person inside the toilet, you cannot say it’s not so?”

Derman cautiously conceded: “He fired at the sound and I’m sure that was to nullify any threat.”

The cross-examination will continue on Monday.

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