Psychologist at sentencing hearing: Pistorius ‘broken’ man

Oscar Pistorius, centre, appears in the High Court for re-sentencing proceedings, in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, June 13, 2016. Pistorius appeared in a South African court on Monday for a sentencing hearing after the double-amputee Olympian was convicted of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Defense lawyer Barry Roux argued for some leniency and called a psychologist who evaluated Pistorius to testify. (Phill Magakoe, Pool Photo via AP)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius is a “broken” man whose mental state has deteriorated over the last two years and he should be hospitalized and not jailed, a clinical psychologist testified Monday on the opening day of the former track star’s sentencing hearing for murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutors immediately challenged that opinion of Pistorius in their cross-examination, charging that the double-amputee Olympic athlete confronted a police witness outside the courtroom in an aggressive way.

Called by Pistorius’ defense lawyers, clinical psychologist, Prof. Jonathan Scholtz, said Pistorius was “quite ill” and struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Scholtz evaluated Pistorius in 2014, during his murder trial, and again in May this year.

“Mr. Pistorius’ condition has worsened since 2014,” Scholtz testified. He said Pistorius was now “despondent and lethargic, disinvested, and leaves his future in the hands of God.”

The clinical psychologist said he did not think Pistorius would be able to testify at the sentencing hearings because of his psychological problems.

Pistorius’ lawyers are arguing for some leniency from a judge when she decides his sentence. South Africa has a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison for murder, although a judge can reduce that in some circumstances.

Pistorius was initially sentenced to five years in prison — and served one year before being moved to house arrest — after being found guilty in 2014 of manslaughter for Steenkamp’s 2013 killing. That ruling was overturned by South Africa’s Supreme Court last year, and Pistorius was convicted of murder.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, the judge who initially acquitted Pistorius of murder at his trial, is presiding over the sentencing hearings and will decide his new sentence.

Prosecutors had depicted Pistorius as an arrogant figure with a sense of entitlement and a love of guns. On Monday, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel subjected Scholtz to sharp questioning, getting him to acknowledge that someone suffering from the same stress disorder as Pistorius could become irritated and agitated. Nel referred to the incident involving Pistorius and the police witness outside the courtroom, apparently trying to show that Pistorius was not a changed, remorseful man and could still be a potential danger to others.

Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius sat calmly on a bench during the testimony, mostly with his head down. During an adjournment before Nel began his cross-examination of Scholtz, Pistorius spoke briefly to defense lawyer Barry Roux and made a call on a cellphone.

The gallery was packed with relatives, journalists and other onlookers. Police officers lined the wood-paneled walls of the courtroom.

Barry and June Steenkamp, the parents of the model Pistorius killed by shooting multiple times through a toilet door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, were also present in court.

In his testimony, the psychologist had described Pistorius as despondent and forgetful, and said further imprisonment for the convicted murderer would not be “psychologically or socially constructive.”

Instead, Scholtz recommended that Pistorius use his skills and past experience in charity to give back to society by helping disadvantaged and disabled people, particularly youths. He noted that Pistorius had sold his firearms, became jumpy even at the sound of gunfire on television, and was unlikely to resort to violence again.

He also said Pistorius was subjected to several “traumatic and humiliating experiences” during the year he spent in prison, including being forced to shower while sitting on the concrete floor because of his disability.Pistorius spent 18 hours a day in solitary confinement while in prison, Scholtz said, and was treated “like an animal in a cage.”

Prosecutor Nel challenged Scholtz on some of those claims surrounding Pistorius’ imprisonment.

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Imray reported from Somerset West, South Africa.

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