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Updated 12 August 2014

Nel nails Oscar as a deceitful witness

Health24's CyberShrink, columnist Professor Michael Simpson comments on the first day of closing arguments in the Oscar Pistorius trail.

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The Terrible Tailor of Pretoria 

There were two notable people in the Court today, the two fathers. Reeva’s father was able to attend for the first time, and sat with his wife, looking rather like actor Richard Attenborough.

More surprisingly, Oscar’s estranged father attended too, looking inscrutable (well, nobody scruted him while I was watching ).

Is it perhaps relevant, or accidental, that he stayed away throughout the trial when his evidence on the charges that Oscar had unlicensed ammunition in his safe which he said belonged to his father, and only attended when no further evidence could be called? 

Nel nailed Oscar as a deceitful witness, “tailoring” and revising his story as he went along, inventing claims to avoid one risk, only to inadvertently cause others, needing to be mended in their turn. 

Henke Pistorius, the father of South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius attends the first of two days of concluding arguments at the Pretoria High Court on August 7, 2014. 

Photo credit: MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Image



As I pointed out earlier, Oscar has tried out different versions of his defence, like a model on the catwalk, switching outfits and displaying each, to see how the audience reacts.

As Nel pointed out, some of these are mutually contradictory. He is, indeed, effectively saying: “I wasn’t there. But if you decide that I was, I didn’t do it.

But if you decide that I did, then it was an accident. And if you decide it wasn’t, then I didn’t mean to do it”.

“I’ll get to that…”

Nel was brilliant, as expected, though he seemed jumpy and somewhat disjointed, darting about amongst the wealth of good evidence and argument he had available. Presumably his written document was more coherent and orderly.

Too many muddled metaphors: the relay race where the baton was dropped, and the mosaic which mysteriously left smudges on the canvas one does not create a mosaic upon.

But his arguments were telling. Oscar, he reminded us, though he later suggested almost automatism when the magic gun went off on its own, never mentioned any such thing right after the tragedy, when he took such care to tell everyone that he’d shot Reeva by mistake, thinking she was an intruder.

Until, perhaps, he realised that this would still be murder. Someone with the sort of dissociative automatism Oscar hinted at, could never have recalled the details he testified to, such as remembering so certainly whether he fired a Double Tap or in rapid succession.

Memorably Nel spoke of Oscar’s “Anxiety On Call”, available whenever it was thought helpful. And he finally said what everyone has been thinking, that in all his years of experience he had never seen such a sorry lot of unimpressive witnesses called by a defence.

Uninhabited promises

He also pointed to Roux’s long series of broken promises. Time and again Roux promised to bring witnesses he never brought; he challenged State witnesses, telling them what his experts would say, but never brought experts who said any such thing.

Early on he described marvellous tests they had done, which would prove that Oscar screams just like a woman (sounds like a Country & Western song, doesn’t it?), and that a cricket bat sounded exactly like a gun-shot. Yet the results of their own tests can’t have supported these claims, as the tests disappeared and were never revealed to the Court.

Read: Oscar trial witnesses are pompous and condescending

Other, surreally shoddy “tests” were done at the very last minute, and proved nothing. He can’t now, surely, raise objections and quibbles he never bothered to put to the relevant witnesses at the time.

The defence has already had to back-track on Oscar’s suggestions that the police “tampered” with evidence, as though they miraculously knew what Oscar’s eventual defence would be, and fiddled the evidence so as to contradict this.

Darn it, even Oscar doesn’t yet seem to know what his actual line of defence is, and if their predictive skills were so superb, they’d be better occupied predicting Lottery results.

Now Roux has had to explain that they just mean the police were sloppy in handling evidence, though there’s no example where this seems to have made the faintest difference.

Oscar Pistorius is pictured during the presentation of the final arguments of his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria on August 7, 2014. Photo: MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Please, folks : THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “A STARTLE”

This is a medical and scientific illiteracy, invented by Dr Derman, and unknown to science. It offends and bothers me when ill-informed lawyers and commentators swallowed this daft invention whole and without question, treating it as though it had the dignity of scientific reality and genuine expert support (Dr Derman is no expert in the relevant clinical speciality or science: his field is Sport & Exercise Medicine, irrelevant to this case ).

Yes, of course, there is such a thing as a Startle Response or Startle reaction, which is simply how we generally respond to any sudden unexpected stimulus such as an ominous or loud noise. You jump, heart rate and pulse become more rapid. You return to normal rather rapidly. You might accidentally drop a plate, but you don’t shoot people.

The implication that it somehow explains, let alone justifies, a complex and dangerous pattern of behaviour such as Oscar displayed, is nonsense. Nel tellingly pointed out how biased Derman appeared.

I was staggered that he was comfortable to appear as an Expert Witness without having made any notes of his interviews with Oscar, and seeming almost proud not to have asked very obviously relevant questions.

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

Roux’s remarkable whinge

Pouting, Roux started his summary of the Defence, and was even more whiny, petulant and sulky than ever. He made an extraordinary complaint, strongly reminiscent of Oscar’s refusal to take personal responsibility for anything.

Incredibly, he complained peevishly that Nel had failed to call some witnesses whose evidence might have been helpful for Oscar’s case!

Of course Nel was in no way obliged to do so, and Roux had every chance to interview and call them himself, and failed to do so.

We’ll see tomorrow whether Roux can retrieve any credibility for the shoddy dDefence case we have seen thus far. I began watching this trial pretty neutrally, and hoped there’d be a convincing and sensible defence from Oscar’s team.

I found the prosecution rather convincing, but it was the awful defence that made it harder and harder to believe Oscar might be innocent.

When Nel charmingly claimed : “I became a lawyer because I can’t count”, even Reeva’s mom smiled quietly.

Read more:

Derman makes disabled people seem retarded and Oscar should not involve himself in his defence
Oscar's shrink has shrunk - comments on Merryl Vorster
Oscar is sane, they say
Oscar's defence continues to implode
If the Oscar Pistorius trail were a movie, I'd cast ...
Oscar Pistorius has quite sane, thank you
Both Oscar and his defence continue to baffle us 
Newspaper ordered to withdraw Oscar ad

From News24: Everything you need to know about the closing arguments 
Need expert advice? Ask CyberShrink a question

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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