Oscar Pistorius has spent his life proving he can triumph over his disability but his “vulnerability” as a double amputee is now a key part of his defence.
The court heard the athlete famous for his remarkable victories on the track is also stressed and defenceless because of the psychological and physical impact of his disability.
The evidence came from Professor Wayne Derman, the doctor for the South African Paralympic team, who has worked with the runner for six years.
Dr Derman said there were “two Oscars” – the tall, gold medal-winning athlete and the double amputee who is small, unbalanced and vulnerable when on his stumps.
He quoted Pistorius saying he would be “stuffed” without his prosthetic legs and said his disability affected every moment of his life.
Dr Derman, a witness for the defence, sought to link the athlete’s extreme physical limitations with his actions on the night of the shooting.
He explained the “fight-or-flight” response was frequently heightened in disabled people and in Pistorius it meant “fight” because he could not run away.
This was important testimony for the defence, which has struggled to explain why Oscar Pistorius, who claims he was responding to the sounds of a suspected intruder when he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, went towards the danger rather than fleeing.
“He couldn’t flee,” Dr Derman told the court several times.
He also said the fight or flight response led to physical changes in the brain which reduced the capacity to think about actions.
The suggestion was that the shooting was an automatic response for Pistorius, not a considered course of events.
This challenges the prosecution’s argument that he intended to kill Ms Steenkamp or whoever he thought might be hiding behind the toilet door.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s cross-examination focused on dismantling the professor’s claims.
In fierce exchanges, he questioned his objectivity and credibility as a witness and sought to show there is no clear evidence Pistorius was acting under a “fight-or-flight” impulse.
Mr Nel also pointed out the athlete had apparently responded to the alleged threat by thinking carefully about his actions, including tracking down his gun – which he had not left in the usual place.
The cross-examination of Dr Derman, the final defence witness, will continue on Monday.