Oscar Pistorius a ‘broken man,’ psychologist says at sentencing hearing
(CNN) — Oscar Pistorius is a “broken man” after the death of his girlfriend, a psychologist said Monday, as his defense used a sentencing hearing to try to convince a judge of his fragile emotional state.
Dr. Lore Hartzenberg said the Olympian described his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, as the love of his life. He lost faith in himself and his abilities after the killing, she said.
But the prosecution dismissed her findings.
“We’re dealing with a broken man, but he’s still alive,” Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said in an apparent reference to the fact that Steenkamp is not. “He has lost his love relationship … but he will be able to love somebody else like that.”
Nel questioned the psychologist about a woman the Olympian allegedly started seeing after the death of his girlfriend. Hartzenberg said she’s not aware of his new relationship, and the two never discussed it during their sessions.
The onetime South African sporting hero was found guilty of negligent killing last month in Steenkamp’s death. The hearing that will determine whether he’s going to prison began Monday and is scheduled to continue Tuesday.
Joel Maringa, a social worker at the South Africa Department of Correctional Services, recommended “correctional supervision” rather than prison time. His report was at the request of the defense.
Guilty of culpable homicide
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who presided over Pistorius’ high-profile trial and delivered the verdict last month, will decide his sentence.
Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide, the South African term for unintentionally, but unlawfully, killing a person. However, the judge cleared him of murder in Steenkamp’s death and granted him bail pending the sentencing hearing.
The hearing is likely to take several days, as the prosecution and defense put their arguments before the court.
There is no legal minimum sentence for culpable homicide in South African law, so it will be up to the judge to decide.
A typical sentence is five to eight years. But it is a principle of South African law that the sentence should be tailored to the culprit as a whole person, as opposed to the crime. That makes predicting a sentence difficult, said Kelly Phelps, a CNN legal analyst.
The judge also found Pistorius guilty of one weapons-related charge involving a shooting at a restaurant.
The maximum penalty for that is five years behind bars. But he could get a lesser sentence, such as a fine or the loss of his gun license.
What would prison life be like?
If Pistorius is sent to prison, it’s unclear whether his disability would allow him any special treatment. And daily life behind bars probably would not be easy.
Born with a congenital abnormality, he had his legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday and uses prosthetic limbs to get around. The carbon-fiber blades he used to compete on the track — before Steenkamp’s killing abruptly halted his running career — earned him the nickname “Blade Runner.”
During his trial, his defense highlighted his vulnerability when on his stumps and a court-ordered psychiatric assessment found he was depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress and a suicide risk.
South Africa’s prisons are notorious for overcrowding, which puts a strain on sanitation, ventilation and medical care for inmates.
Pistorius probably would receive far better treatment than the average prisoner, as he has throughout the judicial process, said Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator for the Johannesburg-based Wits Justice Project, a civil society group.
Even so, she said, it will not make much difference.
“I don’t think anyone with a disability necessarily will be able to be provided for at the moment in a way that ensures that they would have the correct medical treatment, that they have the correct physical structures,” she said.
‘Conduct was negligent’
Pistorius, 27, has always admitted firing the bullets that killed Steenkamp, 29, a model and reality TV star. He pleaded not guilty to murdering her in his home on Valentine’s Day last year, saying he mistook her for an intruder.
But in grabbing his gun and heading toward the supposed threat, Pistorius “acted too hastily and used excessive force,” the judge ruled last month.
“His conduct was negligent” and not what a reasonable man would do in the circumstances — not even a disabled one, she said.
Pistorius can appeal the verdict or the sentence, potentially to the Supreme Court of Appeal and even eventually to the South African Constitutional Court.
The state can appeal only if it believes the judge misinterpreted the law in reaching her verdict.
The right to appeal depends on whether, based on the facts of the case, the initial judge or magistrate believes a different court could possibly reach a different verdict.