PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius is a "broken man" after killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and has already suffered emotionally and financially, a psychologist called by the Olympic runner's lawyers testified Monday ahead of his sentencing.
Dr. Lore Hartzenberg gave the testimony ahead of Pistorius' sentencing for culpable homicide, and it was almost immediately characterized by the chief prosecutor as lacking balance. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel also expressed shock after a defense witness suggested Pistorius be sentenced to occasional house arrest and community service for shooting dead his girlfriend.
After Hartzenberg described how Pistorius had suffered since the Valentine's Day killing last year, Nel noted that the double-amputee athlete likely still has the chance to rebuild his life and possibly continue his career, whereas Reeva Steenkamp is dead and her family is devastated.
"We are now dealing with a broken man, but he is still alive," the prosecutor said. He asked the psychologist what she knew about Steenkamp.
"Do you know anything about her dreams, what she wanted to do in life?" Nel said.
Later a social worker from South Africa's correctional services department, who was also called to testify by defense lawyers, suggested Pistorius should serve a three-year correctional supervision sentence for negligently shooting Steenkamp. That would include periods of house arrest but no prison time, and allow Pistorius to train and attend athletics meets again.
Nel said that suggested sentence was "shockingly inappropriate" and described it as "no sentence."
Judge Thokozile Masipa was hearing evidence on the first day of Pistorius' sentencing hearing, which is expected to last several days. After listening to testimony from witnesses called by both the defense and prosecution, Masipa will decide on Pistorius' sentence.
It can range from a suspended jail sentence and a fine to as many as 15 years in prison. Masipa last month found Pistorius, 27, guilty of culpable homicide but not guilty of both premeditated murder and murder in his killing of Steenkamp at his home.
Several police officers stood guard on the dais where the judge sat Monday amid concerns about her security. Masipa's verdict last month drew criticism from some South Africans who thought Pistorius should 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, a psychologist who counsels Pistorius, said the athlete had lost the woman he loved, his reputation, friends, his income and sense of self-worth after what he said was an accidental killing — and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Pistorius sometimes cried, retched, perspired and paced up and down during sessions in which she tried to assist him, Hartzenberg said.
"Some of the sessions were just him weeping and crying and me holding him," Hartzenberg said.
As she testified, Pistorius sat in the courtroom looking down and appeared at one point to be clenching his jaw.
Nel raised an incident during the trial when Pistorius was involved in an altercation at a Johannesburg nightclub, asking if it matched her description of a grieving man who had withdrawn from society.
There is no minimum sentence in South Africa for culpable homicide or negligent killing. Some experts say a five-year jail sentence is a guideline when a firearm is used.
Pistorius was also convicted on another charge of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place in an unrelated incident. That offense normally carries a monetary fine.