Pistorius has ‘heightened fight response’

Double-amputee Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius can’t flee dangerous situations and has a "heightened fight response" due to his disability, a defence witness told his murder trial.

Pistorius, who had his lower-legs amputated at birth, could face life in prison if he is found guilty of murdering his law graduate and model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot and killed at his home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day last year.

His defence team have sought throughout the trial to portray Pistorius as a vulnerable individual who killed 29-year-old Ms Steenkamp accidentally after mistaking her for an intruder hiding behind a closed toilet door.

The prosecution has argued that Pistorius is a gun-obsessed hot-head who regularly lost his temper with his girlfriend.

Sports psychology expert Professor Wayne Derman told the Pretoria High Court that Pistorius had a life-long fear of crime and would be more likely to confront danger when standing on his stumps, as he was when he shot Ms Steenkamp.

“He is not able to flee because of his disability, his fight response dominates his behaviour . . . resulting in an exaggerated fight response which culminated in this horrific tragedy,” Mr Derman said.

The murder trial resumed this week after a month-long break for Pistorius, known as ‘Blade Runner’ because of the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses in competition, to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

The court heard on Monday the athlete was not suffering from a mental condition when he shot Ms Steenkamp, meaning he had the ability to distinguish between rightful or wrongful nature of his actions.

Pistorius was once revered around the world as the ultimate example of triumph over adversity as he overcame his disability to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at the London 2012 Olympics.

The defence team is expected to wrap-up its case shortly and the court is to adjourn for weeks while Judge Thokozile Masipa considers her judgment.

Mr Derman described Pistorius as a “paradox” whose past triumphs as a sprinter contrasted with the daily, severe limitations he endured because of his disability. He said the contrast likely contributed to stress and anxiety for Pistorius.

“You’ve got a paradox of an individual who is supremely able, and you’ve got an individual who is significantly disabled,” said Mr Derman. He noted that Pistorius’ anxieties included concern about flying.

“He has a specific fear of being trapped somewhere without being able to move very rapidly,” Mr Derman said. Referring to Pistorius’s decision to confront a perceived threat on the night he killed Ms Steenkamp, Mr Derman said “fleeing was not an option” because the runner has no lower legs. During cross-examination, prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Mr Derman, the physician, was giving “character evidence” rather than “expert evidence” and questioned whether the witness was capable of giving testimony that would work against Pistorius’s defence.

“The truth would come before my patient,” Mr Derman said. Nel countered: “You cannot give evidence against your patient, sir.”


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