Pistorius: Fireworks today as Gerrie Nel cross examines Pistorius’s physician about startle responses and intentional acts

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Good morning:

The Thursday session has ended. The trial will resume Monday morning with Dr. William Derman back on the stand to undergo further cross examination by Gerrie Nel.

Lots of fireworks today with tempers flaring as Nel cross examined Dr. Derman regarding unintentional startle responses to sounds and intentional acts, such as pulling the trigger firing multiple shots. Specifically, he pressed Dr. Derman regarding the passage of time between being awakened by a noise in the bathroom and firing the shots.

Rebecca Davis of the Daily Maverick describes what happened,

“If there was only one startle, and the accused acted as he did…he would have acted outside the fight or flight response?” Nel asked. Derman replied that he wouldn’t be in a position to know this. Nel insisted that earlier Derman had said that there would need to be more than one startle.

“Because that’s what happened,” Derman replied (ie, that there were two further noises which evoked a startle response from Pistorius). In other words, Derman was strangely unwilling to entertain any possibilities outside of what Pistorius specified happened.

It’s been an extremely fractious session, characterized by hostile exchanges between Derman and Nel. On more than one occasion Derman asked Judge Masipa for assistance against Nel, but at least once Masipa instructed him to get on with answering Nel’s questions.

“If you cannot assist because you don’t know, just say you don’t know,” Masipa told Derman.

Well worth your time to watch this battle as the outcome may determine the final result of the trial.

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

As you watch the master in action, ask yourselves if Dr. Derman’s relationship with Oscar Pistorius has compromised his objectivity.

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52 Responses to Pistorius: Fireworks today as Gerrie Nel cross examines Pistorius’s physician about startle responses and intentional acts

  1. aussie says:

    He could have run, as he was not on his stumps. He claims he put the legs on afterwards, but…..

    The gun was found in the bathroom. HE said he put it down there when he returned with the bat to break open the door, once he figured it may be Reeva in there.

    So? he went to the bedroom, put on the legs, picked up the gun again just to take back to the bathroom, where by then he was 99% sure he did not need it? No, he had the gun still in his hand because he did NOT have to put it down to put on the legs because he already had them on. .

    • Malisha says:

      But I don’t understand why the legs really matter. If he shot Reeva four times with his legs on, is that worse or better than shooting her four times with his legs off? It wouldn’t matter much if I were Reeva Steenkamp.

      • ay2z says:

        Malisha, I think there’s another posture that Nels might take, re: the disability, the fight and flight. That crafty Nell!! Walked that arrogant sports med doctor right into it yesterday!

        Not only did Nell expose, for bias proof, two examples of ‘attacks’ on Pistorius because he was disabled that were never offered by OP himself and were NOT on the record (and yes, Nells did refer to “the record” in his Q to this false expert witness), Nell now can blow the defense wide open with proof of how Pistorius in his own words, describes what he did when faced being awakened and went into a panic momentarily, thinking he needed to escape a fire.

        He searched for his legs to put them on.

        Didn’t need to search for his legs to run down the passage with his gun, just for Reeva.

      • The legs would matter if he put them on because that would mean he lied when he said he was on his stumps. The lie would be significant because the apparent motive for lying would have been to conceal that he lied about having gone to bed earlier. That is, he hadn’t gone to bed yet and was having an argument with Steenkamp just before the shooting.

        Also, taking the time to put on his prosthetics in the dark would show that he was thinking and not reacting with an automatic fight response to a startle.

        IIRC, the location of the gunshots in the toilet door and the trajectory of the shots after passing through the door indicate he was on his stumps when he fired the shots.

        I do not believe that necessarily means that he had gone to bed as he claimed, since he might have taken them off and been relaxing and having a conversation with Steenkamp that turned into an argument.

    • Pdeadder says:

      Aussie I with you he always had his legs on.
      They had an argument maybe beginning in the kitchen where she was eating,she ran to the bedroom locked the door.That’s why the bedroom door is damaged.
      He kicked the door and got in,she ran to the toilet screaming,she slammed the toilet door,he killed in a rage.

  2. Pdeadder says:

    So is this Dr. saying because he has this disability he should be excused from taking a human life.
    He said when Pistorius was visiting friends and they were watching a movie Pistorius fell asleep gunshots went off in the movie and Pistorius ran to another room.
    Why wouldn’t he pull his gun and start firing ?
    Mr Nell is truly a genius.
    .He seems to have gotten away with many things.

  3. Malisha says:

    This is OT (actually, the thread this relates to was about a week or more ago) but I was thinking about it today. I lived in Detroit in 1970. They wouldn’t have DARED turned the water off on 3,000 families in Detroit that year; they would have realized that such an action (such an act of war) would have resulted in the whole damn city burning down within a couple of weeks, back then.

    The reason the corporate powers have become so bold and so Draconian nowadays is that they have gotten rid of the two generations who would have given up their lives for freedom from the real tyranny — the tyranny of the strangulation and the big lie.

    Now that we’re old and none of us has much more than a pittance to keep body and soul together, they’ve gained the freedom to destroy the two generations of our children, who were not forged in fire and who don’t really understand the loss, the real loss.

    No water? “Let them drink cake.” What they don’t get is that right on the heels of “no water” is the city without sanitation and has anybody heard of the plague? Does it stop at the suburbs? Do you think when the plague is at your door you can open the door and shoot it in the face?

  4. Malisha says:

    Q: And what would have caused the second startle?

    A: He might have thought the presumed intruder had a gun and was getting ready to shoot.

    Q: Would that have been a thought?

    A: Uh, well — that would be for the judge to decide, I’m just here to tell the truth.

    Q: But could he have also thought that the sound was a person inside that tiny room trying to avoid the next bullet?

    A: Uh, no, because that would have taken some rational thought and disabled individuals who are startled cannot be rational.

    Q: So are you saying because he was disabled and startled he could ONLY be irrational?

    A: That’s not what I said.

    Q: What DID you say?

    A: Uh… My lady, the record should speak for itself.

  5. Nell asks to recess the trial until Monday morning. He’s going to be meeting with the State’s psychiatrist on Friday.

    Motion granted.

    Court is in recess until Monday morning at 9:30 am at which time the cross examination of Dr. Derman will resume.

  6. Dr. Derman finally agrees that he shot “to neutralize the threat.”

  7. Finally, he admits that OP said the third sound he heard was caused by the magazine rack and he fired at the sound when he heard it.

    Nell asks, “Why?”

  8. Nell pounces on the word, “evidently” and asks him what he means by that and he says he doesn’t know.

    Nell stares in disbelief.

    Dr. Derman explains he wasn’t there and does not know what caused the noise.

  9. Nell asks him to identify the third sound.

    He says “evidently” it was the magazine rack.

  10. Nell accuses him of stepping carefully and using selective memory to fit his theory to the facts.

    He denies it.

  11. But he suddenly volunteers that OP was looking between the window and the door.

    So you do remember, Nell says, but he says, “No.”

  12. He doesn’t recall how OP reacted to the second startle and doesn’t think it’s fair to be questioned about it.

    Whatever it was, it’s in the record.

  13. The second startle was the sound of the toilet door closing.

  14. Dr. Derman says OP told him that, after he grabbed his gun, he “ran” to the entry into the passageway and then he proceeded very slowly down the passageway toward the bathroom with his gun in his right hand extended in front of him at shoulder height and his left hand extended to his left side touching the side for balance.

    He later questioned OP regarding what he meant by ran because he cannot run on his stumps and OP demonstrated what he meant at the lawyer’s office.

  15. End of Session 3 as the court breaks for lunch.

  16. Nell now asks him again if the shooting was due to the fight response in reaction to the startle and he says he can’t say because OP would have to have been hooked up to instruments.

    Nell has him trapped in the contradiction.

  17. Nell presses him to say how much time would go by before OP would have regained cognitive function.

    He says he doesn’t know without instruments being hooked up.

    Nell says we obviously don’t have that so we have to rely on conduct. If his conduct shows he’s thinking, then he’s thinking.

    Not necessarily says Dr. Derman because even in the automatic response state there is some thinking going on.

    This is not going well for Dr. Derman because he’s waffling and refusing to be pinned down.

  18. Malisha says:

    I just wish there was ONE expert who would get up there and say:

    “He was not thinking at all because he had been brought up to assume that if he is adored and idolized by all the sportsfans in a country as silly as South Africa, he would be allowed to kill one little girlfriend once in a while. It was his automatic fuckit response.”

  19. He concedes that the shooting could not have been due to an automatic fight response without additional startling events because too much time passed.

  20. He agrees that Op’s next response was a decision to get his gun, which was not in its usual place so he had to recall where it was and pick it up.

    That required cognitive thinking and was not an automatic response.

    Evidently realizing where Nell is going, he backtracks and says it’s part of a fight response, but he does not deny that OP was thinking.

  21. After getting Dr. Derman to admit that his testimony would be useless if there were no intruder, Nell turns to his testimony about the 3 responses to a startling event (freeze, fight or flight) and gets him to agree that the three responses are automatic with no thinking involved. Then he qualifies it to “little” thinking.

    OP told him that he heard the sound of the bathroom window opening and hitting the casement. That was the startle..

    He froze in response to the startle

  22. bettykath says:

    A character witness who happens to have special knowledge.

    I would never want to be cross-examined by Nell.

  23. In responding to a question about how he wrote the report, he says it was important to be as accurate as possible.

    Nell asks, “Then why didn’t you take any notes?”

    Then it turns out that he did take some notes regarding what OP said when he asked him some specific questions about stuff not contained in paragraphs 46 and 47.

  24. “For the third time, you knew all along didn’t you, that your report would be used to interpret the facts?”

    Dr. Derman keeps dodging this question by insisting that the facts are whatever they are and he is just describing anxiety, startle responses, and fight vs flight responses by disabled people. Then he says it’s up to the judge to decide what happened.

    He is refusing to admit that he wrote the report to assist the judge to reach a particular conclusion.

  25. He says he did not take any notes during those conversations and wrote the report from memory.

    Nell asks him when.

    He says “before.”

    “Before what?” Nell asks.

    He’s not sure.

    End of Session 2.

  26. Pdeadder says:

    Thank you Mr Leatherman I’ve been suffering withdrawal symptoms from not being able to read this blog.
    I guess since fogen I’ve become cynical about trials in general.
    Hope the evidence from all the first witnesses about hearing a woman’s screams is not lost.
    The defence strategy seems to be if they can’t dazzle them with their brains baffle them with their bullshit.

  27. Paragraphs 46 and 47 contain information about the shooting that Pistorius told him.

  28. Nell confronts him with a statement in his report in which he described his relationship with Pistorius as “intimate.”

    Dr. Derman explains that he got to know him well by spending time with him in the doping room after races where urine samples are collected and tested. The process can sometimes take up to 4 hours, so they sat around and talked about all sorts of stuff waiting for the results.

    This process has occurred many times since he is a very successful athlete who has won many competitions.

  29. Judge Masipa sustains defense objection to questioning Dr. Derman about the rule for psychologists since he is not a psychologist.

    Nevertheless, Nell made his point about the potential conflict of interest.

  30. In Session 2, Nell begins the cross examination by pointing out that Dr. Derman has a 6 year doctor patient relationship with Pistorius and he is ethically required to always act in the best interest of his patient.

    Nell then gets him to agree that a forensic expert has an obligation to be objective and confronts him with his conflict of interest.

    Derman dodges the question by stating that he’s there to tell the truth.

    Nell confronts him with an ethical rule adopted by psychologists that prohibits them from testifying as experts in cases where their patient is a party in the case.

    He says he doesn’t know about that and he’s just there to tell the truth.

  31. Pdeadder says:

    I’ve not been here for sometime taking care of Grandchildren.
    Pistorius was awake he says closing curtains,moving fans etc.
    None the less no matter how good Mr Nell is I believe Mr. Pistorius will get away with this crime.
    He had a smile or smug look on his face today so I think another fixed case.

    • Welcome back. Missed your fonts.

      The defense is playing the he-has-suffered-enough sympathy card hoping that his status as a national hero will influence Judge Masipa to acquit him. The warning that he is depressed and at risk to commit suicide was a not so subtle effort to pressure her into not making his life any worse.

      Difficult for me to predict what she will do, since I know little or nothing about South Africa.

      I do know that Reeva Steenkamp did not deserve to be torn apart by bullets in a toilet stall.

      Her mother has announced that, compelled by her faith, she forgives him.

  32. bettykath says:

    This expert is like fogen’s experts. Their purpose is to explain that the defendant’s story, no matter how implausible, is possible.

  33. Malisha says:

    These experts are expected to somehow twist all known phenomena into the shape of their client’s fantasy. “Here, I’m selling you a brand new car; it’s pink; here’s an expert who will say so.” Expert: “Pink cars are most often shiny. So far as I can remember he loves pink cars; 42.3 percent of all woman fall for pink cars even if they don’t run. That’s a fact, that’s not a fantasy. I know because I’m an expert.”

  34. I just finished watching the first session which ends with the completion of the defense direct examination of Dr.Dernard.

    He testified that Pistorius’s reaction to hearing noises was a startle response.


    The whole thing sounded too practiced, as if written out ahead of time, memorized and recited. I instinctively react negatively to well oiled presentations because I know I am being manipulated to see and hear what the director wants me to see and hear, a place where the truth will not be found.

    Startle responses are initial unthinking responses to a stimulus. In this case, however, there is substantial evidence of intellectual processing and acts committed as a result of decisions made during that processing. This evidence conflicts with Dr. Dernard’s opinion that the shooting was a startle response.

    Also, Dr. Dernard is unctuous and I cannot abide stuck-up unctuous experts.

    I would love to cross examine this guy.

    I think Nell is going to destroy him.

  35. That was the most painful destruction of an expert witness I’ve ever seen.

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