A tale of two Oscars

2016-06-13 16:23

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Pretoria – Convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius is a wreck of a man who has lost all hope and needs to be hospitalised. He also throws tantrums, complains endlessly, acts like he is in charge and has still not admitted to intentionally shooting Reeva Steenkamp. 

These were two versions of the former paralympic athlete the defence and State presented to the High Court in Pretoria on Monday. Barry Roux, for Pistorius, and prosecutor Gerrie Nel presented arguments before Judge Thokozile Masipa in mitigation and aggravation of his sentence for Steenkamp's murder.

Members of both families were in court and sat in the front row of the public gallery where they had always sat during the trial: the Steenkamps on the right, the Pistorius family on the left. The patriarch of the Pistorius family, Oscar’s uncle Arnold, arrived wearing a brown trilby. His counterpart on the Steenkamp side, Reeva’s father Barry, wore a white Panama hat, with a red and dark blue band.

Psychologist Jonathan Scholtz testified for the defence that Pistorius’s condition had worsened in the past two years. He first assessed Pistorius at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital, during his trial, at the court’s request. He did so again this year, at the defence’s request.

He had received permission from the Health Professions Council of SA to assess him again, as he was concerned about the ethics of doing so. 

"If he was my patient in private practice, I would admit him to hospital," he said.

Post-traumatic stress syndrome

Pistorius had major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, social phobia, agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), and panic disorder. He had elevated levels of anxiety and insomnia. The sound of gunshots traumatised him, even in a movie, and he had vowed never to touch a firearm again. 

He found that the risk of Pistorius committing a violent act in future was low.

Having had to rely on others to pay for his trial had deepened his feelings of guilt and self-loathing. His sister Aimee had gone overseas due to the intense media attention he had received, depriving him of a source of comfort and support. 

He had become a social outcast and had to leave a grocery store after a customer complained that he did not want to shop with a murderer. 

As Scholtz spoke about his sense of impending emotional breakdown, Pistorius sat in the dock doubled over, his hands pressed over his eyes. He walked out of court for a tea break, his face red and streaked with tears.

Scholtz argued that sending Pistorius back to jail would not be constructive. He could instead use his skills and experience to enhance the lives of others. An organisation involved in early childhood development, Twin City, had made him a firm offer of a job as programme manager, Scholtz said. 

'That’s a person in charge'

Nel cross-examined Scholtz and sought to discredit his claim that Pistorius had deteriorated in the past two years. He asked him if he knew what medication Pistorius was on, how much, and if the dosage had been increased. Scholtz said he did not know. 

"He confronted an investigator, Colonel [Mike] van Aardt directly, saying 'please give us space and privacy, you didn’t do your job in any case'. That’s not a person who’s given up on life. That’s a person in charge," Nel told Scholtz.

Nel said Pistorius had confronted one correctional services official, a sister Mashobane, at Kgosi Mampuru Prison in January, and banged on her table.

According to the prison’s complaints register, Pistorius was a frequent complainer and complained about anything.

'Behaviour out of character'

Nel asked Scholtz if Pistorius had admitted that he intended to kill Steenkamp. He referred to the Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgment that Pistorius was a poor witness and never explained his reason for firing the four shots that killed her on Valentine’s Day, 2013. 

"Did Mr Pistorius indicate to you that he intentionally shot at the door, intending to kill?" Nel asked.

After much arguing and some objections from Roux, Scholtz said "yes".

"That’s the first version of an intentional shooting that we’ve had in this court," Nel replied.

Nel cited a report from Kgosi Mampuru’s counseling psychologist that Pistorius was aggressive and verbally abusive towards prison officials in his first month in jail. She wrote that his verbal aggression was a further indication of his explosive temperament, and that he had failed to acknowledge that he had committed a crime.

Scholtz said he found her report was "poor” and “unscientific”. He said his own view of Pistorius was that such behavior was out of character.

The matter continues at 09:30 on Tuesday.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  crime

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