Pistorius: Defense presents evidence that disabled people have heightened responses to stress

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Good afternoon:

The Wednesday session has ended.

The Daily Maverick is reporting that the defense presented evidence yesterday and today that Pistorius has been depressed and at risk to commit suicide since he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp. This evidence cuts both ways because he could be depressed about shooting her by mistake believing she was an intruder or he might be depressed because he lost his temper during an argument and shot her to death during a rage outburst. Therefore, this evidence is not useful in determining whether he shot her by mistake as he claims.

To bolster its case that he shot her by mistake, the defense called Pistorius’s manager, Peet van Zyl, who testified that Pistorius was not an angry or violent person and he was very much in love with Reeva Steenkamp. Gerrie Nel pounced on cross examination by confronting him with evidence that Pistorius’s roommate during the London Paralympics asked to be assigned to a different room because Pistorius was on the phone yelling at people for several hours late at night disturbing his sleep.

Nel then asked him if he knew about the time that Pistorius attacked and destroyed a chair upon being informed that he was not selected to run the 4 X 100 meter relay. Van Zyl denied knowledge of the incident which was widely reported at the time. He also denied knowing about Pistorius’s gun fetish.

Given his denial of information that he almost certainly would have known, his close personal relationship with Pistorius and a strong financial interest in a favorable outcome of the trial, I believe it’s unlikely that Judge Masipa will conclude that he was a credible witness.

After reading a portion of Pistorius’s mental health evaluation into the record, which concluded that Pistorius was not narcissistic or psychopathic and there was no evidence that he had a history of aggressive violence, the defense called Sports Medicine Professor Wayne Derman, the Paralympic team doctor. He testified that he worked closely with Pistorius and he noticed that Pistorius had a heightened startle response to loud noises compared to the reactions of other disabled people. He said disabled people generally are more anxious and fearful of being assaulted than people who are not disabled and he cited two studies which show that disabled people are 50% more likely to be assaulted than people who are not disabled. Their elevated anxiety results in a loss of control over their automatic response.

Court recessed until tomorrow morning when Professor Derman will resume the stand.

I presume he will conclude sometime around midmorning that Pistorius had little control over his response to hearing a noise in the bathroom and reacted on autopilot without intent to kill when he shot through the door to the toilet stall.

Then we will watch the master of cross examination, Gerrie Nel, attempt to deconstruct the defense theory of the case.

Professor Derman’s opinion, of course, is based on an assumption that Pistorius told the truth. His theory is vulnerable to attack because of the amount of time that passed between the sound that supposedly awakened him and the specific things that Pistorius said he did before he pulled the trigger. Pulling the trigger was not an automatic response.

He was armed and he pulled the trigger four times firing four shots through a closed door when he was not in any immediate danger of an attack. Even if he believed that an intruder was in the toilet stall behind the door when he pulled the trigger, he was at least grossly negligent, if not reckless.

Unfortunately for Pistorius, it’s difficult to imagine that he did not know Reeva Steenkamp was behind that door.

Until tomorrow.

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9 Responses to Pistorius: Defense presents evidence that disabled people have heightened responses to stress

  1. bettykath says:

    I believe that people with perceivable disabilities feel more vulnerable because, well, they are more vulnerable. I don’t believe that vulnerability was at the heart of Pistorius’ behavior.

    • Malisha says:

      I believe vulnerability was not at issue on Valentine’s Day when he killed his girlfriend; I DO believe present-tense vulnerability (to punishment) is causing him to weep and barf in court.

      • He has good reason to be anxious about the outcome of the trial, especially after Nel took him apart on cross examination.

        The defense is going all in and betting the ranch on evidence of his intense emotional suffering that caused the panel to warn that he is at risk to commit suicide.

        Unfortunately, his depression, intense emotions and anxiety about the outcome are just as likely to have been caused by losing his temper and killing her as by shooting her by mistake believing she was an intruder. Therefore, I do not believe that the evidence of his suffering assists me to decide whether he shot her deliberately or by mistake.

        No one disputes that he loved her and is devastated by her death.

        To decide this case, we are going to have to rely on the forensic evidence and the reasonableness of his testimony compared to that evidence. Sympathy should play no role in that decision.

        To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.


      • bettykath says:

        I agree with the witness that vulnerability can be a factor in general. I also agree with you that vulnerability due to disability was not an issue in this case.

  2. Malisha says:

    I believe the defense missed the boat on this one because they were going with a defense that their client, with his overblown ego and his sense of entitlement, guided them into. I think he should have abandoned the “I thought it was an intruder” story and gone with, “I was so completely thrown by her sudden rejection that I lost it and went temporarily crazy and I throw myself on the mercy of the court. Any psychiatrist in the country could have made a case out of that one. Here’s the blade-runner, needing adoration and adulation and comfort and love, suddenly faced with an unacceptable reality, and he loses it, and he is too far into his fear (of loneliness) and rage (at being rejected) to control himself.

    • Some clients prefer going with a ridiculous claim of self-defense rather than admit they lost their temper and killed their wife or girlfriend in a rage.

      Generally they are controlling males with a history of blaming their partners for forcing them to harm their partners.

      Experienced criminal lawyers can usually see through the self-deception and occasionally persuade the client to accept responsibility, given enough time. That will usually lead to a less severe sentence.

      Lots of clients won’t go there leaving the lawyer to do the best he can with a bad set of facts.

      • Malisha says:

        It always amazes me that people (usually men although I have seen it in a more-than-insubstantial # of women as well) who are very controlling naturally expect others to believe them even when they are telling a patently ridiculous story. I knew someone whose mother would accept his explanation for EVERY misdemeanor (he could do no wrong) and would blame everyone in the world for failing to provide her perfect son with the world he expected. He grew up to think that if he told a version of events (even if it was clearly an IMPOSSIBLE version), anybody who told a different version was a “liar” and anyone who disputed his version was a “heinous criminal.”

        Unfortunately some of these people do well in court. I think it’s because they are very similar to many judges, once you scratch the surface. Birds of a feather excuse each other.

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