• Breaking News

    Monday, 13 June 2016

    Oscar Pistorius Is Unfit to Testify at Sentencing, Psychologist Says

    Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympic runner who shot his girlfriend to death on Valentine’s Day 2013, is unfit to testify at his sentencing for murder, a defense psychologist said as a hearing opened on Monday in a court in Pretoria, South Africa.


    “Currently, in my opinion, he is not able to testify,” the psychologist, Jonathan Scholtz, told Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa of the High Court in Pretoria, arguing that Mr. Pistorius should be hospitalized rather than imprisoned. “His condition is severe.”

    Gerrie Nel, the chief prosecutor, rejected that argument, saying that Mr. Pistorius had not expressed remorse for the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

    Guidelines call for a sentence of at least 15 years, but the judge has discretion to render a lighter or tougher sentence. The decision, which is not expected until later this week, would bring to a close a case that hasriveted and divided South Africa.

    Mr. Pistorius, 29, was found guilty in December of murdering Ms. Steenkamp after South Africa’s top appeals court overturned a lower court’s conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter.

    The court found that the earlier conviction had been based on a misinterpretation of laws and an erroneous dismissal of circumstantial evidence.

    The appeals court said that Mr. Pistorius, who has insisted that he accidentally killed Ms. Steenkamp under the mistaken belief that an intruder had broken into his home, should have foreseen that his actions would kill someone.
    Oscar Pistorius Is Unfit to Testify at Sentencing, Psychologist Says
    In a country with a high crime rate, the fear of home intrusion cuts across social and racial lines, and high walls and security guards are common in gated communities like the one where Mr. Pistorius lived in Pretoria.

    Mr. Pistorius’s arrest in the killing of Ms. Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013, sent South Africans reeling. Known as the Blade Runner for the flexible carbon-fiber prosthetic legs he used when competing, Mr. Pistorius achieved worldwide fame by challenging able-bodied athletes, most notably at the 2012 London Games. He won medals at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 SummerParalympics.

    Ms. Steenkamp, who was 29 at the time of her death, was a model, a law-school graduate and a budding reality-television star.

    In September 2014 — after a lengthy and highly publicized trial that was likened to the 1994-95 trial of O.J. Simpson in the United States — Judge Masipa convicted Mr. Pistorius of culpable homicide but found him not guilty of murder. She found that prosecutors had failed to present “strong circumstantial evidence” and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Pistorius had shown intent to kill.

    Prosecutors, and Ms. Steenkamp’s family, argued that Mr. Pistorius had deliberately killed his girlfriend after an argument.

    Although Mr. Pistorius was regarded as a hero to many in South Africa, the trial revealed another, darker side: a man with a mercurial temper, given to jealousy and occasional anger; an aggressive driver; an irresponsible gun owner; and a celebrity who was used to getting his way.

    In their appeal, prosecutors argued that Judge Masipa had misinterpreted a crucial legal concept in finding Mr. Pistorius not guilty of murder.

    They argued that Mr. Pistorius should be found guilty because — under a legal principle known as dolus eventualis — he should have known that firing through the locked door would kill the person inside. The Supreme Court of Appeal, in Bloemfontein, agreed.

    Mr. Pistorius had been released from prison in October after serving one year of the five-year sentence for manslaughter, and he has been living under house arrest.

    Under questioning from Mr. Pistorius’s defense lawyer, Barry Roux, on Monday, Dr. Scholtz gave a largely sympathetic account of Mr. Pistorius’s background, personality and mental health.

    Dr. Scholtz said that Mr. Pistorius showed symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder; was taking psychiatric medication; and had problems with short-term memory.

    Mr. Pistorius was born in 1986 without a fibula in either leg. (The fibula runs between the knee and ankle, beside the tibia.)

    His parents yielded to doctors’ recommendations that his lower legs be amputated, just below the knee. At 13 months, he was fitted with prostheses. At 17 months, he was walking. His journey to becoming one of the world’s fastest runners inspired people around the world.

    While Mr. Pistorius was estranged from his father — his parents divorced when he was 6 — and his mother died when he was 15, he was close to his aunt and uncle, Dr. Scholtz said.

    Mr. Pistorius never abused illegal drugs, except for a brief experiment with marijuana while in school, and had no prior criminal convictions nor any signs of antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy, Dr. Scholtz said.

    “One can safely say that his fall from grace was enormous,” Dr. Scholtz said, adding that Mr. Pistorius was “genuine in his affection for the deceased.”

    Dr. Scholtz called Mr. Pistorius’s relationship with Ms. Steenkamp “a normal, loving relationship,” with “no signs of abuse or coercion.”

    Dr. Scholtz said that Mr. Pistorius “has found some solace in the belief that the deceased is with God,” and that he was enrolled in a degree program at the University of London.

    He argued that further incarceration “would not be psychologically or socially constructive” and that Mr. Pistorius was not a threat to society.

    Mr. Pistorius, once a gun enthusiast, had sold his firearms, Dr. Scholtz said.

    “He is adamant that he never wants to touch or handle a firearm again,” the psychiatrist said.

    But Mr. Nel, who cross-examined Dr. Scholtz, suggested that Mr. Pistorius had not expressed remorse.

    “Does he understand that he committed murder?” Mr. Nel asked.

    “Yes,” Dr. Scholtz said.

    The prosecutor then made it clear that he was unconvinced.


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