True crime and trial opinions from a layman's perspective
Peet Van Zyl is back on the stand.
Nel asks Van Zyl if he ever traveled overseas with Samantha Taylor and he answers, no he has not. He also wants to know if Van Zyl ever had to arrange for a visa for Samantha. Van Zyl does not recall. Nel states that an email was sent to him (Van Zyl) by Oscar on September 12, 2012, with a copy of Samantha’s passport. He hands him the document for him to review. He still does not recall the email but acknowledges that this is his email address so he must have received it.
The message in that email reads:
“Here is Sam’s passport, please keep it on file. I think we are sorting shit out. Oz”
Nel says, let’s deal with sorting shit out. (love that!) Van Zyl, acting clueless, assumes that they must have had a quarrel and this means they were working it out. Nel makes a great point – if Oscar is writing this to him, then it implies that Van Zyl is aware that they are having issues. There would be no other reason to make that statement unless Van Zyl knew what Oscar was talking about.
That would be like me texting a friend and saying my car will be ready on Monday. Unless I had specifically told that friend that my car needed repair and was in the shop, why the heck would they care or even know what I was referring to.
Van Zyl states that he did not interfere in his clients’ personal lives. He still claims that he was not aware what was going on between them. So Nel wants to know, what was the purpose of him sending the copy of the passport? Van Zyl says that he kept the passport on file for a television production that was happening in the Seychelles later in the year. So obviously he does recall getting this passport. He is clearly being evasive. He admits that he gave all of the information to the TV production company and they were the ones who arranged the flights.
Nel brings up the roommate situation at the Olympics again and refers Van Zyl to an article by David O’Sullivan.
Nel points him to paragraph four of that article. It reads:
“Still I was aware this poster boy for the Paralympic games could have flashes of a darker side. I experienced his anger shortly before the Beijing Paralympic games. Oscar was at the pre-games training camp and phoned me (David O’Sullivan) raging about what he perceived to be an inadequate training kit. His fury at the South African Management caught me by surprise. Oscar knew he couldn’t be ignored and his anger would ensure his demands were met. I hadn’t expected Oscar to be a prima donna.”
Nel asks Van Zyl if he was aware of this. He answers that he was aware of Oscar being upset with the training kit, but doesn’t seem to acknowledge the tantrum that he supposedly had thrown. Once again, he tries to explain that he was not there and the South African Management team on-site was responsible for handling the situation.
For somebody who is a manager, he sure does pass the buck. It is HIS client who I am sure is paying him a hefty commission. Of course he was involved in Oscar’s life and Oscar’s issues. That’s what managers do. His testimony is coming across very insincere.
Nel then reads part of paragraph five:
“He told me he had been forced to move out because Oscar was constantly screaming in anger at people on the phone. I thought he (Arnu Forie) was joking and waited for a smile but he was serious.”
Nel wants to know if Van Zyl ever heard this story? Van Zyl says he received a phone call from Ampie Louw informing him that there was an issue with one of the athletes that Oscar was rooming with and that team management would take care of it. He didn’t take further notice of this.
Van Zyl does want to point out though that Arnu Forie did post a statement on his Twitter page last night (see my post for Day 34) and Nel says, good, I’m glad you mentioned that! That brings up two questions:
1. Did anybody discuss your evidence with you since you left court yesterday?
He answers no, but he did receive emails from some of his friends overseas that follow all of these athletes and they pointed out to him that this statement was on Arnu’s Twitter page.
2. Isn’t it true that Arnu did not deny the phone calls in his statement from last night? Van Zyl has to concede that Arnu did not deny them.
And once again, Oscar thinks this is funny.
Nel then asks Van Zyl if he would be surprised if he told him that Oscar wrote the following letter to Samantha Taylor:
“I invited you to London because I knew that you have had my heart in your hands for months and never once let it go.”
Van Zyl says he was never informed of this as far as he can recall. Nel asks, did you not call Samantha’s mother to try to get them to London? Van Zyl says that he honestly can’t remember trying to get Samantha to the London games.
Nel says this is important because yesterday he was trying to tell the court that Reeva was the first girl that Oscar ever invited to travel with him and yet here we have a letter that proves otherwise.
Nel has him read another letter from Oscar to Samantha:
“That was not fair of you as you have never given me a reason to mistrust you. You have only been everything I could ever want. This is so hard to write because I don’t deserve you, Sam. When I invited you, I was so excited to tell you because I knew we had some hard days behind us. I had asked Peet to do everything he could last week to find you a ticket.”
Nel wants to know if this is not true. Van Zyl again says he honestly can’t remember.
Nel asks, if Oscar asked you to do this, you would remember, right? He hesitantly says, probably, but I cannot recall.
The next paragraph reads:
“I don’t even feel like going to London now that you won’t be there with me. I don’t know how I let it go this far but I will never forgive myself for not looking after your heart that you placed in my hands.”
Ok, seriously? He’s an Olympic athlete and he doesn’t want to go to London now because his girlfriend is not going? This to me illustrates just how immature and insecure he really is.
And still, Van Zyl claims that he can’t remember any of this. That is just not believable at all.
And another paragraph reads:
“It took me a long time to be honest with myself and truly fall in love with you, Sam. At least I know it wasn’t forced. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination.”
Nel is really pushing Van Zyl on why he didn’t know about this invitation to London. Van Zyl just simply keeps repeating that he cannot remember.
Then Van Zyl voluntarily offers up that one time with Oscar’s other ex-girlfriend, Jenna Edkins, they had to arrange for travel so she could do a photo shoot with him in Italy. Nel says you are right.
He reads from the last paragraph:
“I invited Jenna over last year for a week to Gemona but after the night she went out with her friends, I cancelled the trip because I didn’t want to be emotionally vulnerable…”
Van Zyl states that Ms. Edkins did travel with them to Milan for the photo shoot but he doesn’t know anything about this planned trip to Gemona.
On the Sunday after the shooting, Van Zyl visited Oscar at the Brooklyn police cells. Nel mentions that he did a TV interview afterwards and followed it up with a formal statement. Van Zyl agrees. The statement was circulated to a media list and he also posted it on his own website. He then did an interview on a radio station called Ballz on February 18, 2013. Nel wants to know if he can still recall what he said in his interviews and in his statement.
He says he can’t recall everything but believes it was in relation to the sponsorship and endorsement deals that they had to suspend, terminate or cancel, and also that Oscar had to cancel all of his scheduled competitions. Nel asserts, you said more than that. Van Zyl agrees. He publically supported Oscar as a manager and as a friend in his interviews with the media.
Nel asks him if he ever sent condolences to the Steenkamp family. Van Zyl answers that he made mention of them (not sure where) and he sent them flowers. Nel says to him that he had an opportunity to send his condolences to the Steenkamp family while giving interviews and statements but he didn’t. Van Zyl concedes that he did not publically give condolences to them when interviewed on the 17th and 18th. He goes on to say that he was told not to make any contact with the family. The family doesn’t seem too impressed by that.
Nel asks, what about as a friend of Reeva’s? Why did you not do that? Van Zyl answers that he doesn’t want the court to think that he was a friend of Reeva’s. He met her on a few occasions but he never became friends with any of Oscar’s previous girlfriends.
Nel revisits the story about the flight attendant helping Oscar with his prosthetics. He wants to know what point Van Zyl was trying to make with that story on direct examination. Van Zyl says the point was that Oscar is uncomfortable in public without his prosthetics. Nel says that he has information that once while on holiday, Oscar left his legs on the beach and that was not a problem. Nel says that by him making those statements, he is forcing Nel to “go there” with him. Van Zyl says that he can only testify to the experiences that he shared with Oscar. Nel shows him the photograph of the legs on the beach.
Van Zyl now tries to say that this incident (the shooting) was traumatic for him and he has avoided looking at the media. But Nel pushes back at him that he finds that odd. He was still Oscar’s manager and needed to manage the situation, yet he wants to tell the court that he did not follow what was going on in the media. Van Zyl says he no longer has future contracts to manage so he has no need to follow it now.
Nel asks Van Zyl if he was aware of the pet names that Oscar had for Samantha. Specifically, had he heard the name Little Butterfly? Van Zyl says no, he has not. That prompts more laughter from Oscar in the dock.
All of these things… the love letters, the trips, the pet names… are indicators that Reeva was not the only woman who ever existed in Oscar’s life. This is important because it contradicts what Oscar and his Defense team have been trying to portray – that Reeva was a very special love for Oscar. And he never would have done anything as horrific as killing the love of his life. Who knows, maybe she was the best love of his life. But the fact remains that he has loved before and using “love” to say that no way would he have hurt her is not really sincere. Nel points out to Van Zyl that on numerous occasions Oscar expressed that Samantha Taylor was the one girl for him. Look what he did to her… cheated on her, yelled at her and broke her heart. And in his book, Blade Runner, he refers to Vicky Miles as the love of his life. He admits that their relationship was “fiery”. Clearly women, love, passion and intensity are a theme in his life. All of them have the ability to combust.
Nel next addresses the time when Oscar was left out of the final for the 4 x 4 meter relay. He was very upset by that and he was reportedly kicking chairs at a team meeting. Van Zyl is aware that he was left out of this final in 2011, and that he was unhappy. He was not in any of these meetings; these were again team South Africa meetings. Nel wants to know if he at least heard about it and he agrees that he did hear about it but wasn’t aware of chairs being kicked. But he did know that he was unhappy. Nel wants to know how Oscar expressed his unhappiness. Van Zyl says Oscar was more disheartened than angry, and was almost in tears.
This sounds pretty emotionally unstable to me. I’m not saying the guy can’t have feelings or be upset or sad. I’m just saying that this man is an Olympic athlete. They are trained to handle failure and disappointment. It’s not just a concept to be strong, but they are literally trained to be strong… both physically and mentally. The fact that he crumbles so easily at every difficult moment is a big indicator to me that he has some pretty deep-seeded issues.
Nel has no further questions for Van Zyl.
Roux addresses the Twitter message from Arnu Fourie and has Van Zyl read it out loud. And with that, Van Zyl is excused. It appears that Roux wanted to quickly close the can of worms that he opened with Van Zyl. He couldn’t get out of dodge fast enough.
Now it’s time for a little house-keeping.
Roux hands a photograph up to the court documenting the time that the Netcare ambulance arrived at the Estate on February 14. The time of arrival at the gate was 3:41:50am. He states that since none of the paramedics or ambulance people testified, he wanted to have their arrival time on record via the photograph.
Roux then reads the psychologist report from Oscar’s evaluation, and Nel reads the psychiatrist portion, each focusing on the respective highlights that benefit their teams.
Roux pointing out that Oscar did not display any signs of abnormal aggression, psychopathy or narcissism, and also that he is suffering PTSD and depression and without proper treatment could be suicidal.
Nel points out that Oscar does not have a mental illness, nor does he have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He had the ability to act appropriately on the night in question. This should squash the Defense’s hope of pinning his actions on exaggerated anxiety.
You can read both reports here on the blog:
The next witness is Professor Wayne Derman… being questioned by Oldwage. This should be fun.
Derman is a registered medical practitioner with the Health Professionals Counsel of South Africa. He has been registered since 1988. He practices as a sports and exercise medicine physician. Derman reviews his CV details. He gives lectures, co-leads a research program and has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers. He has also authored or co-authored over 25 book chapters.
His areas of specialty are illness or injury in athletes with disability, and neuroscience as it relates to stress response and chronic illness prevention.
He has also written 6 original research papers in international journals on medical aspects of Paralympic athletes and other athletes with impairment or disability. He was an invited speaker at Vista, the Paralympic Medicine and Science World Conference in 2011 and 2013. The topic was the medical challenges of the traveling Paralympic athlete. He was also invited to give a Seminole lecture on stump/socket interface problems in athletes with amputation.
Derman was appointed to the medical commission of the International Paralympic Committee to lead a research team as a medical expert with reference to a longitudinal injury and illness surveillance study. This appointment was to last from 2012 to 2016. Derman then explains what the term longitudinal impairment means. He states that we don’t know what happens to athletes with disability over the course of their career. Things within their body change over time as they compensate with other areas of their bodies, and we don’t know what the long term consequences may be at this point.
Derman also mentions that his thesis for his PhD dealt with aspects of the sympathetic nervous system and its modulations through the ingestion of beta blockers. He has co-authored 4 international publications on the neurophysiology of the stress response.
Derman describes that the body has certain automatic functions; heart rate, breathing, etc. This is driven by the nervous system which has two components: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Parasympathetic governs the relaxation response in the body. The sympathetic system regulates your heart rate and blood pressure, and works off of stress hormones that interact with receptors in the body. This system controls a person’s ability to perform.
Derman has also studied the neurophysiology of how the brain governs the sympathetic response.
In addition to his academic work with the International Paralympic Committee, he also has a private practice as a sports and exercise medicine physician. He has done this for the past 20 years in South Africa. He has also completed the necessary training to prepare him for the role of team physician in San Diego, CA, and Orlando, FL, in the United States.
The role of the team physician is to accompany the athletes on any international travel and look after their health during a time of rigor. They are to establish a patient/doctor relationship of trust.
Derman has known Oscar for the last six years providing periodic health assessments, direct observations of him during medical consultations (both formal and informal) as well as his observations of him within the close confines of residing together in a team setting throughout the Beijing and London Paralympics events, and the Christ Church IPC World Championships.
During these events, it was necessary to accompany Oscar and other athletes for significant periods of time. And during this time, he has observed Oscar interacting with fellow athletes, people in positions of authority and members of the public in general, as well as having observed him within the extremely stressful environment of competing at the highest level.
He has also spent a good amount of time with Oscar in the anti-doping control environment which occurs as an automatic process when an athlete has achieved medal status. This process ensures that the athlete has competed free of substances. These tests can last for periods of 2 to 4 hours, and he has observed Oscar during these times.
From these observations, Derman concludes that Oscar is a highly professional, dedicated athlete who is disciplined and focused with reference to his sporting profession. He has always been very vigilant and cautious not to consume any prohibitive substances or derivatives of when being medicated for common illness or when consuming supplements. To his knowledge, he has never tested positive for prohibited substances.
Derman states that he has remained in contact with Oscar even after the events of February 14, 2013.
From a medical perspective, Oscar is prone to respiratory tract infections and is very sensitive to pollutants as he is quite allergic. At times over the years, Oscar’s stumps have proven to be significantly and chronically problematic, in particular the stump/socket problems that have culminated in the peeling of skin leading to secondary infection of soft tissue, irritation and swelling. These problems relate particularly to his left stump.
He then goes in to some of the same areas that Dr. Versveld covered in addressing Oscar’s left stump and the issues with his heel pad.
On one occasion, he was contacted by Oscar over Skype while he was in Belgium. A very distressed Oscar showed him his clearly bleeding stumps. He was attempting to qualify for the London Olympics at the time. He arranged for him to see a physician in London and instructed the team doctor to take special dressings and medications to Berlin, which was the next destination at which he would compete.
Derman makes his own assessment that Oscar is an anxious individual. He has a tremor of the hands and presents with a sleep disorder for which he has previously had to medicate him.
He next focuses his testimony on the Kessler scale. This is a 10 question quiz, also known as the K10. This is a clinical tool that you can rapidly administer to athletes to get an idea, based on their responses, how they are feeling and dealing with the stresses of competition.
Derman had the idea to use the K10 to identify changes in psychological distress; markers of anxiety and markers of depression, and see how the results would change over time from pre-competition to post-competition. He was interested in also applying this to a control group, a group of international level athletes competing at the iron man triathlon, and then he would compare the two.
The conclusions from their study showed that the markers of psychological distress (anxiety and depression) were higher in the athletes with disability compared to the control group who were able-bodied athletes. Also, they found that anxiety and depression changes over the course of a competition. The K10 score is sensitive to pick up these changes.
The following are the K10 questions. The recipient can answer on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being “none of the time” and 5 being “all of the time”:
1. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel tired out for no good reason?
2. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel nervous?
3. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel so nervous that nothing would calm you down?
4. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel hopeless?
5. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel restless or fidgety?
6. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel so restless you could not sit still?
7. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel depressed?
8. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel that everything was an effort?
9. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel so sad that nothing could cheer you up?
10. In the past 4 weeks, about how often did you feel worthless?
Derman next discusses Oscar’s results from previous K10 tests in 2008 and 2011. The scores from the three tests were 28, 24 and 19. These numbers show that his scores have decreased after competition. Oscar’s psychological distress markers are higher than the mean value of scores that he recorded for the entire group of athletes.
I can’t help but think as I sit here watching the Steenkamp family in the gallery, that this is such a load of pathetic psycho-babble. Their daughter is dead because of Oscar and we now have to listen to how sad and stressed out he has been over the years because his job as an elite athlete, that has earned him millions of dollars and notoriety all over the world, is difficult. It’s insulting.
Derman goes on to say that he has observed Oscar being constantly hyper-vigilant, as well as having an exaggerated startle response which involves him covering his head and ears and cowering until the noise ends.
The last time, prior to February 14, 2013, that Derman spoke to Oscar was on February 2, 2013. Oscar phoned him and was suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection and sinusitis. Derman advised him to go to the pharmacy and he called in a prescription. He then asked him how life had settled down after London to which he responded that at the moment he was lying next to the most wonderful girl that he had met. He also told him that he couldn’t wait for him to meet her. Reeva would be taking him to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription. Derman followed up with him on February 10, 2013, to get an update on his wellness and ability to return to fitness training.
It is Derman’s opinion that the startle response (fight or flight) is heightened in persons with disability. Derman reads from the book, Human Physiology from Cells to Systems, 4th Edition by Laura Lee Sherwood: “The sympathetic system promotes responses that prepare the body for strenuous physical activity in the face of emergency or stressful situations such as a physical threat from the outside environment. This response is typically referred to as a fight or flight response.” Derman explains more fully in layman’s terms what happens to the body under stress.
Derman has witnessed exaggerated fight or flight responses in some individuals, including those with disability. He explains that the brain governs these responses; I suppose suggesting that Oscar had no control over his actions that night.
Derman explains that a “startle” is the stimulus that begins the fight or flight response.
He also discusses a woman that he became acquainted with in September, 2012, at the London Paralympic games. She is a massage therapist who was born with a condition (from her mother ingesting thalidomide during pregnancy) that prevented her arms from developing. She utilizes her feet to perform her massage work. During their meetings, he mentioned to her his involvement with Oscar.
Following London, he remained in contact with her in relation to his academic work. After February 14, 2013, this woman reached out to him via email with the following communication:
“Dear Wayne, I hope that you are well. I’m writing with regard to Oscar. Please excuse me if you have already thought about this. In my dealings with English coaches, etc. of Paralympic sports people, I have become aware that the truth is easily hidden by the young disabled person from themselves and from others in order to get on in life. The acceptance of the brave face is often the easiest option for all concerned in order to achieve results. You may dismiss my concerns for justice, put me in the fan or nut category, but I feel I have to write to you on this matter. As a disabled woman who has over the years come under attack in many different situations, I am amazed at myself and my automatic responses. Having read Oscar fired his gun through a door, I am concerned that people without disability will not understand that the fight or flight response in people with a disability may be more highly developed. I cannot find clinical tests on this to support the statement but have not looked in detail. If Oscar did not know who was behind the door… ”
Nel stands up to object, stating that this is hearsay. He wants to know how this woman’s experience is relevant to this trial. Oldwage counters that this is not hearsay and cites case law to argue his point in a very long and drawn out explanation that I won’t even insult your intelligence with by summarizing.
Nel argues that these statements are from a non-witness that we cannot cross-examine; that is hearsay. He also points out that if the purpose of this evidence is to supplement the Professor’s findings as Oldwage asserts, then it would have to be something that is considered truth. However, the Professor will not rely on the email as truth; it is merely one woman’s own experience and is not relevant to Oscar’s experience, therefore the court should not allow it as truth.
Judge Masipa breaks for lunch to decide if she will allow the evidence.
Upon return, the Judge determines that the evidence is not relevant and it will not be admissible. The portion of the email that was already read in to the record will be expunged from the record.
Derman continues with the next part of his report. He goes on to say that adults with disability are at a higher risk for violent attacks against them compared to adults without disability. He reads off crime statistics from 2009-2012 to back up this statement.
Derman states: “It is of concern that since the advent of the Paralympic games in London in 2012, an event that was intended to raise positive awareness of disability, attacks on individuals with disability have increased. In fact, the recent survey shows that nearly 1 in 4 disabled individuals living in London have suffered some form of hostile or threatening behavior, or have been physically assaulted since the Paralympics.”
Oldwage asks Derman his opinion on why these aggressions have increased and Derman says it’s hard to say, but one of the logos that was used at the Paralympics was “We are the Superhumans” and perhaps people now want to put themselves up against the superhumans.
Ok, seriously? That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I’m not convinced that Judge Masipa is buying this bologna either.
Derman moves on to fight or flight and uses a mother fighting off a polar bear to protect her young children as an example. He relates this to Oscar having confronted perceived danger in very adverse circumstances. Ok, let me see if I have this straight… we have superhumans, polar bears and Oscar imagining that people are in his toilet… sounds like an episode of LOST.
Derman shows an image of the brain to the Judge and points out the important areas that relate to fight or flight – the amygdala structure, the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. He explains how they all work together. He goes in to a long explanation and points out the amygdala, which ultimately has free reign over fight or flight responses. Research shows that individual differences in the structural integrity of the amygdala (subconscious brain) and pre-frontal (conscious brain) were inversely correlated with trait anxiety. And he lost me after that. The one important thing to note though is that he stated that the more heightened the anxiety, the more the amygdala is uninterrupted in its fight or flight response. But we know now that Oscar doesn’t have an anxiety issue so all of this is really just irrelevant. But nice try, blaming it on his brain function.
He states, “the initial physiological reaction to trigger the amygdala is called the startle, also known as the fear-potentiated startle. This can be elicited in the face of any threatening stimulus. The stimulus is usually auditory, as in a sound, or is visual.” He explains how individuals are tested for different levels of startle response.
Before concluding for the day, Oldwage requests that the psychology report by Scholtz be redacted before being sent out to public domain. The Judge grants this request. They adjourn for the night and Derman will be back on the stand tomorrow.