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Oscar Pistorius trial: Suicidal Oscar, 3 things defense wants remembered

As the defense begins to wrap up its case in the Oscar Pistorius trial, one thing is clear. Oscar Pistorius has a defense team that is doing its job. The defense is doing everything they can to weaken previous testimony that highlighted a narcissistic man, by highlighting a hypervigilant man that allegedly did not know who he was shooting at as the morning hours began on Valentine's Day 2013 when 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp lost her life. The psych evaluation that put the Oscar Pistorius trial on recess for 6 weeks has illustrated Oscar Pistorius as a man that knows the difference between right and wrong, and knew those differences when he pulled the trigger on Reeva Steenkamp four times. The defense has presented witnesses since that report was revealed in their efforts to weaken those findings, and weaken previous testimony on the screaming that was heard throughout the neighborhood that morning. The New York Times reported on July 2 that the latest strategy of the defense team is to use this report to their advantage, by playing up to the sympathies of the court and showcasing a man who is highly fearful, and even suicidal since the death of the lovely Reeva Steenkamp. The question remains, have they done enough to squash the notion that Oscar Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder?

Oscar Pistorius checks his phone before court resumes on Day 37 the Oscar Pistorius trial.
Oscar Pistorius checks his phone before court resumes on Day 37 the Oscar Pistorius trial.
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

The New York Times reports that the latest testimony from the defense in the Oscar Pistorius trial centers around key statements made in the psychiatric evaluation of Oscar Pistorius. On June 30 when the trial resumed, the defense of Oscar Pistorius received a significant blow. In this report it was revealed that 4 experts, including one chosen by the defense, all found Oscar to know the difference between right and wrong when he shot at Reeva Steenkamp 4 times.

That testimony diminished any chance for Oscar Pistorius to be found to have diminished responsibility for the killing. This left the defense scrambling to come up with some other defense that would explain away his actions on the night in question.

The New York Times reported that on Day 36 of the trial, the defense has played up on some of the diagnoses in that report, by illustrating Oscar Pistorius to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as depression, and is even at risk of suicide. This testimony is testimony the defense wants left lingering in the mind of Judge Masipa, who will be the one to determine if Oscar Pistorius is guilty of premeditated murder, and destined for up to 25 years in prison.

On Wednesday the courts in Pretoria, South Africa heard that since the killing, Oscar suffers from PTSD, depression, and is also "at risk of suicide without treatment" for these problems. What the defense does not want Judge Masipa to remember with this testimony is that, most prisoners accused of killing someone are also at risk of PTSD and suicide after being held accountable for violent and atrocious acts.

The New York Times has referred to this defense tactic as one that "raised the stakes in a battle of perceptions and presentation" between the State and the defense. Which perceptions and whose presentation will Judge Masipa believe?

The State's assertion is that lovers Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had a fight in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day 2013. It has been alleged that Reeva was attempting to leave Oscar after this fight, and locked herself in the bathroom with an iPad in the hopes that Oscar would eventually cool down. Instead, the defenseless Reeva found herself victim to open gunfire, and was shot at 4 times, with the last shot being a fatal blow to the head.

The State has presented evidence that shows Reeva screamed so loudly, the entire neighborhood heard, with some neighbors alleging that screams were heard before the gunfire began, and during the fatal shooting.

The defense for Oscar Pistorius claims, Reeva never screamed that evening. Oscar Pistorius insists that she didn’t, hoping that Judge Masipa believes that he was the only one screaming that night. By insisting such, Oscar is hoping that Judge Masipa believes that Reeva Steenkamp stayed silent while she was shot at 4 times, and that the only one screaming that evening was the one who is still alive today.

The latest findings in the Oscar Pistorius trial illustrate a defense battling to create the perception that while Oscar may have known the difference between right and wrong, his mental state since the killing should preclude him from being held accountable. Will they be successful?

In day 36 of the trial, the first perception the defense is hoping to establish is the perception of a suicidal man who does not have narcissistic tendencies, as has been previously suggested in the Oscar Pistorius trial. Lead member of the defense Barry Roux read segments of the report in the Pretoria high courts to illustrate this notion,

"Mr. Pistorius has been severely traumatized by the events that took place. He currently suffers from a post-traumatic stress disorder and a major depressive disorder. He is also mourning the loss of Ms. Steenkamp. Should he not receive proper clinical care, his condition is likely to worsen and increase the risks for suicide."

Another perception the defense wants Judge Masipa to remember is that Oscar and Reeva had big plans beyond the night of the killing. On June 30, the courts heard testimony that Oscar was planning business trips with Reeva, and hoping to take her to a music concert in the future according to the L.A. Times. This strategy is a move by the defense as an effort to eliminate the possibility of premeditated murder.

Their contention and perception the defense is trying to create here is that, if Oscar was planning things for the couple, he could not have possibly premeditated that killing. What the defense does not want Judge Masipa and the court of public opinion to remember with this testimony is that, a lot of couples make plans that never happen when a breakup appears out of the blue.

Those plans could very well have been in place for Oscar and Reeva, and may even have been in place on the night of Valentine's Day 2013. Does that negate the possibility of premeditated murder? Not if Judge Masipa believes that Oscar and Reeva had a fight that evening, and Reeva was planning on leaving him regardless of the big plans he had.

If Judge Masipa believes the State, she may also believe that the killing was a result of that fight, and an attempt of Oscar Pistorius to stop Reeva from leaving him.

The defense also wants it remembered that Oscar Pistorius does not have narcissistic tendencies. Prior to the reading of the psychiatric evaluation in court on Day 36 of the Oscar Pistorius trial, Judge Masipa and the court of public opinion heard about a man who experienced a lot of gun accidents, rage issues, and even ordered new guns before the trial began.

This testimony has been very damaging for Oscar, illustrating him to be a narcissistic and trigger happy man, who seems to have a higher than normal amount of shootings occur in his presence. One such shooting occurred in a public restaurant where 200 people were dining, including a table of children near where Oscar was sitting on that day in question.

The defense wants Judge Masipa to forget that incident, and others like it in Oscar's life, and remember one or two lines from a psychiatric report instead. In the very last witness of a trial that has spanned months, the defense has finally found one person that can say Oscar is not narcissistic.

The New York Times has reported that the clinical psychologist that evaluated Oscar Pistorius in the 6 week recess stated that he could not find narcissistic tendencies. Dr. Jonathan Scholtz, one of the 4 experts who evaluated Oscar wrote that,

"No evidence could be found to indicate that Mr. Pistorius has a history of abnormal aggression or explosive violence. He does not display the personality characteristics of narcissism and of psychopathy that are mostly associated with men in abusive relationships and have been linked to rage-type murders in intimate relationships."

By negating Oscar as a narcissist, the defense is hoping that means Judge Masipa will conclude he is not guilty of premeditated murder. By negating this previous testimony, the perception the defense is hoping to establish here is that, all premeditated murders on women are performed by narcissists, Oscar has been found to not be one by one person alone, and so the defense is trying to establish he could not possibly be guilty of premeditated murder.

The defense has not called any other witnesses to assert that Oscar is not a narcissist.

Will they be successful?

ABC News reports that many mental health experts believe that the key finding in the report is not PTSD or depression, but that Oscar knew the difference between right and wrong when he shot at Reeva Steenkamp 4 times. This is the information the State wants Judge Masipa to remember.

ABC News has spoken to criminal defense lawyer Anton Smith who has been closely watching the trial, and has some perceptions as well on the infamous psychiatric evaluation of Oscar Pistorius.

"The finding is not good for the defense. Neither in terms of their strategy, as they tried to illustrate diminished culpability, nor in terms of a possible factor once they start arguing in mitigation of sentence."

Will Oscar's suicidal tendencies, or lack of narcissism according to the report play on Judge Masipa's sympathies when it comes to verdict time? It could, or it could not.

Judge Masipa may not have been on the bench for all that long, but she has been reporting on crime for several decades. She likely knows the statistics behind suicidal tendencies of accused murderers, and this information may not sway her. It is possible, and even probable that Oscar Pistorius is suicidal. But the question remains, does this perception mitigate his criminal responsibility?

The defense wants her to believe that Oscar is an exclusive case, and that if he does not get help, his condition will worsen. But Oscar Pistorius will certainly not be the first accused murderer to be found to be suicidal, or even suffering from PTSD.

HLN reports that as many as 33.2% of prisoners, or, 1 out of every 3 inmates, found guilty of a crime are also suicidal. HLN looked at data from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 that illustrated that of a total of 918 inmate deaths in America, over 33.2% were caused by suicide.

The report examined by HLN also showed that most of the suicides that occur in jail occur within 7 days of prisoners being admitted. As well, the suicide rate in jail in America is highest in white, older males. The Mail and Guardian reports that the situation in South Africa is even more grim. Citing a report by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, the Mail and Guardian asserts that, "Suicide is still the primary cause of unnatural deaths in prison."

The impression the defense is leaving with the Judge as the Oscar Pistorius trial begins to wrap up is that Oscar is a sick man, and may even die if he is put in prison. The defense wants us to remember that he is not narcissistic and prone to violent rages. The defense also wants Judge Masipa to forget all previous testimony that suggests otherwise, and focus on one or two lines in a psychiatric evaluation in their efforts to save Oscar from 25 years in prison.

Will they be successful?