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By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius intended to shoot through a door in his bathroom to “nullify the threat,” believing an intruder was in the enclosed toilet cubicle, a sports and exercise doctor testified Monday.

Pistorius is on trial for murder in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was in the cubicle when he opened fire on a hot night last year on Valentine’s Day.

The prosecution contends he intentionally killed her after an argument. Pistorius says he believed she was an intruder.

Even if Pistorius succeeds in making that argument, the court could convict him if it finds that as a gun expert, he realized that any person in the cubicle, regardless of identity, would likely be killed when he fired the four Black Talon-style bullets. The ammunition is designed to cause maximum tissue damage.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel spent Monday attacking the testimony of the sports and exercise doctor, Wayne Derman.

Nel argued that Derman was biased and did not have the expertise to comment on two reports by psychiatrists and a psychologist, who found that Pistorius suffered no generalized anxiety disorder nor any mental disorder that affected his legal responsibility for killing Steenkamp.

Derman, who was Pistorius’ sports doctor for six years and accompanied the double amputee and other athletes overseas to compete in the Olympics and carried out tests on the athletes’ stress levels, testified last week that Pistorius was on the border of a generalized anxiety disorder.

Responding to Nel, Derman said he was not biased and was qualified to comment. He added it didn’t take a genius to interpret the report based on a four-week psychiatric and psychological assessment of Pistorius.

“One doesn’t need to be a genius but one does need to be a psychologist,” Nel retorted, in a testy exchange, adding that South Africa’s Health Professions Act stipulates only psychologists may interpret psychological tests. Nel added that psychologists took into account clinical data, not just test results.

Derman last week gave evidence on Pistorius’ state of mind at the time of the killing — a key issue at the heart of the case. He argued that as a disabled man, Pistorius was more vulnerable and easily startled into a primitive survival “fight or flight” reflex than an ordinary person. Derman testified the option of flight was limited by his disability.

Derman’s evidence is important to the defense bid to convince the court that even if it wouldn’t be reasonable for an ordinary person to fire four expanding bullets into the toilet cubicle, Pistorius’ action was reasonable because he felt more vulnerable and anxious than an able-bodied person.

On Monday, Nel said Pistorius was made less vulnerable by arming himself. Derman conceded this was so but couldn’t say to what extent.
The athlete could be acquitted if the court accepts that he acted reasonably.

At the conclusion of Derman’s questioning, defense advocate Barry Roux said he would likely close his case but requested an adjournment until Tuesday to be sure.

Nel indicated that if Roux called a psychiatrist, he would reopen the state case and call the state psychiatrist.

If both sides conclude their cases, there will be a break of several weeks while they prepare written arguments based on the evidence. The court will return to hear summaries from both sides, before another adjournment to allow the court to weigh the evidence and determine the case.

AFP Photo/Bongiwe Mchunu

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