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Updated 01 March 2016

Back to school at the Oscar trial

It's clear Oscar did not suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, and we still don't know if he screams like a woman. CyberShrink analyses the latest in the Oscar Pistorius trial.

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The much awaited report of the conclusions of the 30 day observation were almost glossed over, yet they were really significant. They ought to make us question the odd testimony of Dr Merryl Vorster.

We have yet to see the detailed report itself, but there was no mention of the panel of experts having confirmed her diagnosis of a current GAD anxiety, let alone the risible suggestion that she was sure he’d had GAD since a year of age, a diagnosis impossible to reach. We may yet hear about that. Or perhaps not.

Read: What you need to know about generalised anxiety disorder

Media have been quoting the excellent Dr Sean Kaliski in this case, confirming what I have asserted: that GAD has never been found, anywhere, to have caused problems in diminished capacity in a serious criminal trial Kaliski has been involved in the Dewani case.

The panel did confirm that at the time, Pistorius had NO psychiatric disorder that interfered with his ability to tell right from wrong or to behave in accordance with that understanding. Both sides agreed with those conclusions, but both reserved the right to search through the reports to seek anything that might help or hinder their cases.

The report of the psychiatrists seems to have been very succinct and brief, that of the psychologist to have been long-winded and obviously ranging over far too many issues beyond what the group was actually asked, by the court, to deal with.

Read: Oscar's defence continutes to implode 

The formal inclusion of a psychologist on such a panel is unusual, and if I remember correctly, he was chosen and proposed by the defence. If indeed, he chose to go far beyond the remit, and way into territory relevant more to the coming mitigation phase of the trial, maybe the Defence was clever to get him to do all this, which they can use later, but at the expense of the State?

There have been weirdly naive expectations expressed by some journalists. One, for instance, petulantly reported, as Oscar walked past, that “You didn’t see that expression on his face of having been an Outpatient”. What? Could someone explain to me the visible stigmata of having visited a hospital?

Dr Versveld and the Audible Snap

It’s really not credible that Dr Versveld, who has known Oscar since infancy, would not have followed the trial, carefully read Oscar’s evidence in transcript, and discussed the trial with Oscar and his lawyers.

Why shouldn’t he have done so? How could he testify how vulnerable Oscar would have been in a dangerous situation, when he did not assess him in a dangerous situation and didn’t discuss the danger?

The X-rays and demonstration were intended to elicit sympathy, but weren’t relevant to the case.

Notice that nobody asked him whether over all of those years, Dr Versveld ever noticed signs that Oscar was suffering from a serious GAD, as Dr Vorster asserted. He’s no expert in psychiatry, not by a mile, but he might have noticed if this had indeed been so.

His evidence was truly not very relevant or helpful, but Oscar was especially busy sending notes to his team. Dr V inadvertently testified that it would have been very hard for Oscar to do what he says he did.

He emphasized the man’s vulnerability - but surely that should have led to Oscar fleeing the room, as he could easily have done, rather than rushing towards the danger?

As Nel brilliantly elicited in his cross-examination, despite the good doc solemnly telling us how hard it was for Oscar to balance and run, according to Oscar’s own testimony he did so marvellously well on the fateful night, without falling or stumbling - which implies he was far more in control of himself than he has claimed.

He was rightly challenged about saying that Oscar could not defend himself without a weapon, which sounded like a justification of the gun, while ignoring that easy option of fleeing.

Roux grew awfully agitated at this time, bouncing up and down with objections, not succeeding in hiding the obvious.

Such energetic objections can be a way of signalling to your witness what he needs to say or deny. It encouraged Dr V to reject a question as “unacceptable”.

Then Roux raised a long thin Red Herring. He demanded that the court compel Nel to hand over an extension cord, so its length could be measured.

Nobody had considered it relevant evidence at the time. The police ignored it and did not seize it as evidence, and we must presume it was left at the house when, within days they handed to keys first to Oscar’s friend Stander, and thence to the family.

At any time after that anyone might have removed the cord, or it might still be there. The Defence gave no evidence that they have seriously searched for it, or questioned the many people they have brought to the house for their tests, etc.

Without proving anything, they managed to imply that the police had sneakily removed it. To demand it now, over a year after they have themselves controlled the house and its contents, is peculiar, and surely tactical. It was hard to see why the judge allowed herself to get so bothered about this.

Read: All said and done, we still don't know why Oscar shot Reeva

Ivan Lin, and now Ivan Headache.

Yet another peculiar expert report from the Defence. By the way, there is absolutely no excuse for the Defence to have been indulged in their desire for all of their expert witnesses had to be hidden from view by the media - this is not at all normal or necessary, and like too many other features of this trial, sets bad precedents.

Anyway, Mr Lin’s evidence was massively boring, repetitive, turgid and unhelpful : no wonder he nearly lulled everyone to sleep.

For a start, it should be required that any Expert report begin with the conclusions, and then explain how these were reached and justified.

Instead, we sat through an endless series of closely similar monotonous statements about “dba’s”, and are still wondering whether it was of the faintest relevance. I don’t think it was.

If you accept what Mr Lin seemed to be saying from the start ( and I do ) about the inescapable uncertainty about what people can hear, and the impossibility of reproducing the highly relevant characteristics of factors on the specific night, then none of the rest of what he said was necessary or useful. It was a clear example of false specificity.

He was actually guessing, about how loud noises were (marvellously, speaking of an “Average Human Scream”). We heard about ”similar luxury estates” ! And estimating how audible sounds MIGHT be at various distances. He is no psychologist, and knows nothing about how people interpret what they hear.

He has no idea how loudly Oscar or Reeva did scream, or the actual circumstances on that night, or how good was the hearing of the various witnesses. Without that, all of his theories and guesses were entirely pointless.

He doubted whether people could “recognize emotions” at particular distances: what does he mean by that? What emotions? And is he really certain nobody could distinguish between blood-curdling screams and merry laughter?

Notice how we were promised that we’d be shown how Oscar “screams like a woman”, but this has never happened. We heard that elaborate tests were done on site, but none of those results have been revealed. Did they not show what was hoped for?

Now we’re told nobody could tell the difference anyway. So here we go again. The Klingon translator is back, maybe she’s finished her latest Star Trek role. Now I must just pop into the garden, and utter an Average Human Scream.

Read more:

Oscar returns with a glut of witnesses
Oscar's witnesses are pompous and condescending
What did Reeva's messages to Oscar mean?

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 

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