PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius does not display the narcissism associated with men in abusive relationships and linked to “rage-type” murders, according to a psychologist’s report read Wednesday at the athlete’s murder trial.
The report adds to conflicting evidence about the character of the double-amputee runner, who killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by firing his pistol through a closed toilet door in his home. The defense has sought to support Pistorius’ contention that he killed the 29-year-old model by mistake, fearing an intruder was about to attack him; the prosecution says the Paralympian is a jealous egotist who shot Steenkamp after a Valentine’s Day argument.
Dr. Jonathan Scholtz, a clinical psychologist, found no evidence that Pistorius had a history of “abnormal aggression or explosive violence” but concluded he has a record of feeling insecure and vulnerable, particularly when he is without his prosthetic limbs, defense lawyer Barry Roux said. He read excerpts from the psychological report, part of a court-ordered evaluation of Pistorius’ state of mind over 30 days at a state psychiatric hospital.
The evaluation, which included a separate report by three psychiatrists, said Pistorius was not mentally ill when he killed Steenkamp early on Feb. 14, 2013.
That conclusion appeared to remove the possibility that Pistorius could be declared not guilty by reason of mental illness. On Wednesday, his defense team tried to show that the psychologist’s report supports the Paralympian’s account of a mistaken shooting because his disability and purported fear of crime contributed to a heightened sense of vulnerability.
When physically threatened, Pistorius might have a fearful reaction that could “seem extraordinary when viewed from the perspective of an able-bodied person, but normal in the context of a disabled person with his history,” said Roux, quoting from the report. The lawyer also cited the psychologist as saying Pistorius has become severely traumatized since the killing and will become an increasing suicide risk unless he continues to get mental health care.
At times during his trial, Pistorius has wailed and retched in apparent distress, particularly during graphic testimony about the shooting and also when the athlete was on the witness stand. At other times, he has been calm and taken notes. Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel has suggested Pistorius feigned distress in order to dodge a tough cross-examination; the athlete’s camp has denied his emotional displays were fake.
Nel has portrayed Pistorius as a reckless narcissist with a penchant for gunplay and driving at high speeds. He has highlighted arguments between the runner and Steenkamp in the weeks before he killed her, though the defense has said most of their communication was normal and affectionate.
Pistorius, who is free on bail, faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty of premeditated murder, but he could also be sentenced to a shorter prison term if convicted of murder without premeditation or negligent killing. Additionally, he faces separate gun-related charges.
Also Wednesday, a medical expert who has treated Pistorius said the athlete has a hand tremor as well as a sleep disorder that required medication. Wayne Derman, a professor of sport and exercise medicine at the University of Cape Town, testified that he found Pistorius to be “hyper-vigilant” and was restless, often looking around quickly and scanning for possible threats.
“He is an anxious individual,” Derman said, testifying for the defense.