PRETORIA, South Africa — In dramatic scenes on the third day of his sentencing hearing, disgraced Paralympian Oscar Pistorius walked without his prostheses as his attorney argued he was a vulnerable figure who should receive a lesser sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux asked the Paralympic gold medalist to remove his prosthetic legs and stand in front of the court while describing the events of the night of Valentine’s Day 2013 when his client shot Steenkamp dead through a bathroom door in their home. Pistorius has said he thought an intruder was in the bathroom.
After a few minutes, Pistorius, who had changed out of his suit and into shorts and a T-shirt, had to kneel and started weeping in the court Wednesday.
Murder carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in South Africa, but the defense is trying to secure a lesser sentence by arguing there are mitigating factors, including Pistorius’ physical and emotional disabilities.
“He suffers from an anxiety disorder. We know that uncontested evidence that when he was on his stumps, his balance was seriously compromised, and without anything he won’t be able to defend himself,” Roux said.
Pistorius was not wearing his prostheses at the time of the shooting, and Roux painted a picture of a fearful man on his stumps, trying to protect a loved one.
“He was anxious, he was frightened. … He was suffering from anxiety disorder, and that’s not gone,” Roux said. “This must all be seen in context of his disability.”
The lawyer added it was “understandable that a person with disabilities such as that of the accused would certainly feel vulnerable when faced with danger.” He said that Pistorius’ disability also means he would face a harder time in jail.
Roux told the court that the “real facts” of the case had become clouded by false perceptions about the killing and Pistorius.
“Some people refuse to sit back and look at the objective facts,” he said.
He insisted that Pistorius had believed Steenkamp was in bed, that an intruder was behind the bathroom door, that he had not intended to kill the target and that he had attempted to save Steenkamp’s life.
Pistorious, a first-time offender, has paid financially and emotionally for his actions, and will punish himself all his life for what he did, Roux added.
Prosecutor: Steenkamp’s father the ‘broken man’
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel followed Roux’s closing arguments by stating that Steenkamp’s father, Barry, who gave emotional testimony Tuesday, was the “broken man,” not Pistorius.
He pointed to Pistorius’ accomplishments as an athlete as evidence of his ability to overcome limitations.
Nel told the court the Paralympian had not taken medication he had been prescribed for depression and anxiety at the time of the attack.
“Maybe he didn’t want to get better,” he said. “The tablets were still in the packaging.”
Cousin: Reeva didn’t love him
Pistorius was also overcome with emotion as Reeva Steenkamp’s cousin, Kim Martin, told the court that the victim didn’t love him.
“I know she (Reeva) liked Oscar, I don’t think she loved him. She was fond of him. She had a soft spot for him,” Martin said Wednesday.
She testified that the killing three years ago irrevocably changed her family.
“As a family we will never be able to carry (on) normally,” she said.
“I saw my dad, for instance, cry for the very first time when Reeva died, and then for the second time when he heard I would have to testify again.
“As far as I’m concerned (Reeva’s father, Barry, is) a broken man … the guilt of the father not being able to protect his daughter, it’s very difficult for him.”
She accused Pistorius of never apologizing for shooting Steenkamp. “All we’ve ever wanted was the truth. Oscar’s version changed so many times. … I have never heard him apologize for shooting and killing Reeva behind that door.”
New sentencing ordered
Pistorius faces a new sentencing hearing after South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in December that his fatal shooting of Steenkamp was murder, not culpable homicide.
Both sides aimed to wrap up closing arguments Wednesday.
On Monday, the first day of the hearing, clinical psychologist Jonathan Scholtz told the court that Pistorius is a “broken man,” not capable of testifying.
He said Pistorius was still on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and that he would recommend hospitalization if Pistorius were a regular patient.
Father’s plea for punishment
In his tearful appearance on the stand Tuesday, the victim’s father, Barry Steenkamp, said he still struggles with his daughter’s death and has “changed completely.”
Barry Steenkamp said he speaks to his daughter every day and thinks of her “every morning, afternoon and night. I think about her all the time.”
It was the first time he had testified during Pistorius’ three-year legal odyssey. Steenkamp suffered a series of strokes after his daughter’s death and has only been present at part of the proceedings.
“I don’t wish that on any human being, finding out what happened. It devastated us,” Steenkamp said. “I ended up having a stroke and so many things since then have happened to me.”
The father said his wife, June, had forgiven Pistorius, but that the former Olympic and Paralympic sprinter must still pay the price for his crime.
The final chapter?
Pistorius is expected to learn his fate by Friday.
The hearing may be the final chapter of his widely watched trials that marked a fall from grace for the athlete, nicknamed “Blade Runner,” the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics
After a nearly 50-day trial stretched over seven months, Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide (much like manslaughter) in September 2014.
Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled the sprinter had acted negligently when he shot Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door but that he didn’t do it intentionally. The Supreme Court of Appeal later changed that conviction to murder.
Masipa is also presiding over this week’s sentencing hearing.