Thursday 30 October 2014

Oscar Pistorius' disability means he has exaggerated 'fight-not-flee' response to danger - court hears

Published 08/08/2014 | 09:21

Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa (AP)
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa (AP)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE.  PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8:  Oscar Pistorius talks to his uncle and aunt in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius talks to his uncle and aunt in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
BY COURT ORDER, THIS IMAGE IS FREE TO USE.  PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA -AUGUST 8:  Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. (Photo by Herman Verwey-Pool/Foto24/Gallo Image/Getty Images)

The lawyer of murder accused Oscar Pistorius has told the court his disability meant he had an exaggerated 'fight-not-flee' response when he felt he was in danger.

Barry Roux said that Pistorius believed he was fighting an intruder when he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The lawyer explained that when people are frightened they fight, flee or freeze. He said the double amputee's disability meant he had developed an 'exaggerated fight response' because he spent his life 'knowing he couldn't run away'.

Oscar Pistorius's chief defence lawyer also said that just as a woman might kill an abusive husband after many years, so Pistorius has built up an exaggerated response to danger.

The chief defence lawyer for Oscar Pistorius is delivering final arguments in his murder trial, alleging the athlete thought he was in danger when he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

At one point, lawyer Barry Roux slapped his hand on the desk in front of him to mimic a sound that the double-amputee runner said he heard on the night of Ms Steenkamp's death. Such an alarming sound, Mr Roux argued, explains why Pistorius thought an intruder was in his home and that he had to defend himself by opening fire.

Mr Roux also alleged that police mishandled evidence at the house where the shooting happened.

In his closing arguments yesterday, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel claimed the athlete shot Ms Steenkamp through the closed toilet door after an argument, describing him as an "appalling witness" who lied constantly during testimony to try to cover up the murder.

Mr Roux said Pistorius's disability had made him particularly vulnerable and anxious over the years, comparing the runner to a victim of abuse who kills an abuser after a long period of suffering.

Pistorius has said he killed Ms Steenkamp on February 14, 2013 by mistake, thinking an intruder was in the toilet and about to attack him.

Today, Mr Roux alleged that items in Pistorius's bedroom, near the bathroom where he killed Ms Steenkamp, may have been moved around by investigating officers.

"There was no respect for the scene," Mr Roux said of the police investigation. He also noted that the former chief investigator Hilton Botha, who later resigned from the force, was not called as a witness by the state.

The positioning of bedroom items, including a fan, a bed cover and a pair of Ms Steenkamp's jeans, are important because, in police photographs, they were not in the places where Pistorius said they were before the shooting, leading prosecutors to argue that Pistorius is lying in his version of events.

The prosecution has argued that a fan was found standing directly in front of doors leading to the balcony, and therefore Pistorius's story that he ran to the doors, opened them and screamed for help after realising he shot Ms Steenkamp by mistake is not true.

Prosecutors say Pistorius never went out to retrieve two fans before the shooting and move them inside, which the athlete says is the reason why he did not see Ms Steenkamp get out of bed and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The bed cover was shown crumpled on the floor in a police photograph. Pistorius had claimed it was on the bed, leading him to believe Ms Steenkamp was underneath it in the bed when he went to the bathroom with his gun.

The premeditated murder charge carries a sentence of at least 25 years to life in prison. Pistorius could also be convicted of a lesser murder charge or negligent killing, both of which call for years in jail. Judge Thokozile Masipa could acquit him if she believes he only made a tragic error.

Ms Masipa was expected to adjourn the trial at the end of proceedings today to deliberate on a verdict with the help of two legal assistants. South Africa does not have a jury system.

Press Association

Promoted articles

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in World News