PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius armed himself and took other methodical steps before he killed his girlfriend, the chief prosecutor said Thursday, trying to cast doubt on the athlete’s account that he reacted instinctively to a perceived intruder.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel made the argument while cross-examining sports physician Wayne Derman, who testified that the Paralympian acted on a “fight or flight” impulse in which he chose to confront what he thought was an attacker because his disability prevented him from fleeing. Derman has treated Pistorius for years.
Pistorius, 27, says he killed Steenkamp by mistake, thinking there was a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot her through a closed toilet door while on his stumps. The prosecution says he intentionally killed the 29-year-old model after the couple had a Valentine’s Day argument last year.
Under questioning from defense lawyer Kenneth Oldwadge, Derman drew a contrast between Pistorius’ past triumphs as a sprinter crossing the finish line with raised arms with the daily, severe limitations that he endured because of his disability.
“You’ve got a paradox of an individual who is supremely able, and you’ve got an individual who is significantly disabled,” said Derman, who has worked with South African Olympic and Paralympic teams. He noted that Pistorius’ anxieties included concern about flying.
“He has a specific fear of being trapped somewhere without being able to move very rapidly,” said Derman, a professor of sport and exercise medicine at the University of Cape Town.
Derman said Pistorius has an extremely anxious nature, a condition that partly stems from the amputation of his lower legs when he was 11 months old. Pistorius was born without fibulas, the slender bones that run from below the knee to the ankle.
The defense wants to show that the athlete had a deep sense of vulnerability because of his disability and a long held fear of crime, and it was a factor in what he has described as a mistaken shooting.