Pistorius' lawyers down to last few witnesses

South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his trial in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, July 1, 2014. REUTERS

Last Updated Jul 1, 2014 5:50 AM EDT

PRETORIA -- If Oscar Pistorius' defense team had hopes of detracting from the his dismal performance on the witness stand by introducing a mental disorder argument, those hopes have been severely dashed.

Pistorius sobbed and retched his way through his testimony, contradicting himself and forgetting his own evidence on many occasions. Then the defense introduced forensic psychiatrist Meryl Vorster. She was assured and measured -- calmly telling the court that it was her expert opinion that Pistorius suffered from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and that because of his heightened vulnerability and anxiety, he would be more likely to respond to a situation of danger with a fight rather than flight response.

While he could tell right from wrong, she argued it might lead to a diminished responsibility for his actions.

But what seemed like a devastating blow to the state prosecutor's case seems to have backfired. Four mental health experts conducted a 30-day psychiatric evaluation and found that Pistorius was not suffering any mental disorder when he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

With Vorster's evidence neutralized and no possibility of the GAD defense assisting their case, the defense is now relying on its last handful of witnesses to prove Pistorius shot his girlfriend after mistaking her for an intruder.

Down now to the final lap of the case, the trial continued this week with the defense calling Dr. Gerald Versfeld to the witness stand on Monday. He's Pistorius' orthopedic surgeon and the physician who amputated Pistorius' legs when he was a child.

He spoke of Pistorius' vulnerability on his stumps and said he would often slip on them while showering or walking on bathroom tiles. He also said Pistorius would have severe difficulty warding off danger without the use of a weapon.

But chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel would have none of it. He pointed out that in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year, Pistorius was perfectly able to walk down the passage way of his house, check the bathroom and fire four shots though a locked bathroom door without falling.

The next witness was acoustics expert Ivan Lin, brought to the stand by Pistorius' legal team on Monday to discredit neighbors' testimony that they heard the blood-curdling screams of a terrified woman at the time he shot Steenkamp.

The defense maintains it was not Steenkamp they heard, but Pistorius screaming -- like a girl -- when he realized in horror what he had done.

The most compelling witness brought by the defense since Pistorius returned from his 30-day court hiatus for the mental exam came Tuesday in the form of his manager, Petrus Van Zyl. He tried to paint a picture of a man poised on the cusp of international superstar status.

"The London Olympic and Paralympic Games were only about two people -- Usain Bolt and Oscar Pistorius," Van Zyl told the court. He said that after the London Games, Pistorius' sponsorship and financial opportunities increased exponentially, and according to Van Zyl, he wanted to include Steenkamp in his life.

Van Zyl read from two emails in which Pistorius requested additional business class flights so Steenkamp could join him on trips to racing events in Britain and Brazil.

Pistorius also planned on charming his new girlfriend by taking her to a Andrea Bocelli concert in Tuscany, Van Zyl told the court.

The track star's manager said in all the time he had known Pistorius (they met in 2004 and began a business relationship in 2006), the sprinter only lost his temper on two occasions. Both times Van Zyl believed it was understandable as he was the subject of aggressive questioning by journalists.

The first incident occurred in Barcelona when a camera was put in his face and a journalist asked if he was a cheat because he was trying to compete against able-bodied athletes. The second occurred during a BBC interview in which Van Zyl alleges Pistorius lost his temper after he was asked if he was embarrassed to try and compete against able-bodied athletes.

Both incidents were extremely well publicized at the time.

The defense has indicated it has between three and five more witnesses to call, after which it will rest its case. Court will then adjourn to allow both sides to prepare closing arguments before a verdict is finally given.

  • Debora Patta

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