Disability made Pistorius feel vulnerable, court told

Disability made Pistorius feel vulnerable, court told

PRETORIA - Oscar Pistorius's defence sought on Thursday to show the double-amputee sprinter feels highly vulnerable and acted out of fear not anger when he shot dead his girlfriend.

Pistorius has a "split personality", defence lawyer Kenny Oldwadge told the court. There are "two Oscars", he said - a world-class athlete and a highly vulnerable individual with a serious disability.

Lawyers defending the 27-year-old on charges that he deliberately shot and killed model Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year are calling their final witnesses.

Medical expert Wayne Derman testified that Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner for his j-shaped prosthetic limbs, was not always the fearless superhero depicted in sports advertisements.

"Although he loathes to be pitied in any way, the hard truth is that he does not have lower legs," said Derman, chief medical officer of the South African Paralympic Team at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

"You've got a paradox," he said, "Of an individual who is supremely able and an individual who is significantly disabled." During five months of the stop-start trial, Pistorius's lawyers have sought to portray him as manically obsessed with safety after a difficult childhood with a mother who intermittently abused alcohol and in the face of high crime levels in South Africa.

Those factors, they argue, help explain his reaction on Valentine's Day last year when shot dead his girlfriend, a 29-year-old model and law graduate, through a locked toilet door, allegedly convinced she was an intruder.

Accused of bias

Derman, who has known Pistorius for six years, testified that the runner is conditioned to "react through auditory stimulus" a result of training to starter pistols fired at the beginning of athletic races.

The expert witness, expected to be the last before the defence concludes its case, said it was Pistorius's unusual "startle magnitude" that "culminated in this horrific tragedy." Prosecutors claim Pistorius killed Steenkamp following a row, arguing that neighbours living close to him heard a woman screaming the night he shot the model.

"Not even Mr Pistorius perceived the attack by a burglar on the night to be linked to his disability," said Nel, beginning a tough cross-examination of Derman.

The witness, who Nel accused of bias in favour of Pistorius, was argumentative and indignant on the stand, at times refusing to answer questions.

The Olympian, who has appeared tired throughout the day, cracked a grin with his defence team during tea break.

He then turned to the first row of the public gallery where he greeted two American tourists in court with a polite handshake and a smile, saying "thank you" for their messages of support.

Pistorius faces up to 25 years in South Africa's brutal jails and an abrupt end to his glittering sporting career if convicted.

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