PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius is a “broken man” after killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp because he lost her, his reputation, friends, income and sense of self-worth, a psychologist called by the Olympic runner’s lawyers testified Monday.
Dr. Lore Hartzenberg gave the testimony ahead of Pistorius’ sentencing for culpable homicide, and it was almost immediately characterized by the chief prosecutor as unbalanced.
A sentence for culpable homicide can range from a suspended sentence and a fine to as many as 15 years in prison. Judge Thokozile Masipa last month found Pistorius not guilty of both premeditated murder and murder in his killing of Steenkamp in the predawn hours of Valentine’s Day at his home last year.
Several police officers stood guard on the dais where the judge sat amid concerns about her security. Masipa drew criticism from some South Africans who thought Pistorius could at least have been convicted of a lesser murder charge on the grounds that he knew a person could die when he fired four bullets through a toilet door and into a small cubicle, killing Steenkamp.
Prosecutors said Pistorius had opened fire in anger after the couple argued. The runner testified that he mistook Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and budding reality TV star, for an intruder who was about to come out of the toilet and attack him.
Hartzenberg said the double-amputee runner had sometimes cried, retched, perspired and paced up and down during sessions in which she tried to assist him.
“Some of the sessions were just him weeping and crying and me holding him,” Hartzenberg said. She testified she had been counselling a grief-stricken Pistorius since soon after the Feb. 14, 2013 killing of Steenkamp.
The testimony was part of an effort by the runner’s legal team to persuade Masipa that Pistorius has suffered emotionally and materially and that he is remorseful. The team hopes the judge will be lenient when she sentences Pistorius, once a celebrated athlete who ran in the 2012 Olympics, after what is expected to be a week of legal argument and testimony.
“We are left with a broken man who has lost everything,” Hartzenberg said during her testimony.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel criticized her findings, saying Pistorius would likely still have the chance to rebuild his life and possibly continue his career.
“We are now dealing with a broken man, but he is still alive,” the prosecutor said. He later questioned the psychologist about what she knew about Steenkamp, noting her life was over.
“Do you know anything about her dreams, what she wanted to do in life?” Nel said.
Joel Maringa, a social worker in South Africa’s correctional services, suggested that Pistorius be placed under correctional supervision, which would include periods of house arrest, for three years and that he perform 16 hours of community service a month during that time. Such correctional supervision would allow Pistorius to train and attend athletics meetings again, Maringa said.
Nel said such a sentence would be “shockingly inappropriate” and described it as “no sentence.”
Maringa, who was also called to testify by the defense, listed Pistorius’ involvement in international sporting bodies as well as charity projects and predicted that the athlete’s behavior could be “successfully modified within the community context.”
Earlier, Hartzenberg, who described herself as an expert in trauma counseling, said she first met with Pistorius on Feb. 25 last year, 11 days after the shooting death of Steenkamp, and had been counselling him since then.
She said the shooting and Pistorius’ lengthy and high-profile murder trial meant the athlete had also suffered severe loss. He had lost Steenkamp, his “moral and professional reputation,” many of his friends, his career and his financial independence, she said.
Nel asked the psychologist about Steenkamp’s family.
“Would you not expect a broken family?” Nel asked, saying Steenkamp’s father Barry had suffered a stroke as a result of the killing of his daughter, and Steenkamp’s mother had collapsed when she learned of her daughter’s death.
Nel said Pistorius also had the opportunity to return to his life and his track career. Nel, who sometimes questioned Hartzenberg sternly, also raised an incident during the trial when Pistorius was involved in an altercation at a Johannesburg nightclub, questioning whether it matched her description of a grieving man who had withdrawn from society.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux said he would likely call four witnesses during the sentencing hearing. Nel said the state would call at least two, with the hearing expected to last a week.
There is no minimum sentence in South Africa for culpable homicide or negligent killing, although some experts say a five-year jail sentence is a guideline when a firearm is used.
Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa.