By TJ Strydom
PRETORIA (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius is "a broken man" who should not be jailed, a psychologist told a court sentencing the South African Paralympic gold medalist for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The 29-year-old, known as "Blade Runner" for the carbon-fibre prosthetic blades he used to race, appeared at the Monday session, at times with his head in his hands.
He faces a minimum 15-year sentence in a case that has prompted a fierce debate in a country beset by high levels of violent crime. Some rights groups have said the white athlete has received preferential treatment.
Professor Jonathan Scholtz, a psychologist called by Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux, told the hearing that Pistorius was on medication for depression, anxiety and insomnia.
"One would describe him as broken. In my opinion his current condition warrants hospitalization," Scholtz told the hearing that was attended by Steenkamp's mother.
"Since 2013, he becomes traumatized when he hears the sound of gunfire," Scholtz said. "He never wants to touch a firearm again."
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned Scholtz's assertion that Pistorius was not fit to testify, saying the athlete had managed to give a TV interview. The hour-long interview with Britain's ITV is due to air this month, local media have reported.
Pistorius initially received a five-year sentence for culpable homicide, South Africa's equivalent of manslaughter, for shooting Steenkamp through a locked toilet door in his Pretoria home. He had argued he mistook her for an intruder.
But the conviction was later upgraded to murder after an appeal heard by the Supreme Court, which ruled in March he had exhausted all his legal options and can no longer appeal.
Pistorius sat in a dark suit as original trial judge Thokozile Masipa started hearing pre-sentencing arguments at Pretoria High Court. At one point, a member of his legal team passed him a packet of tissues and water.
State prosecutors who lodged the appeal say Pistorius intended to kill Steenkamp and that the law graduate and model had fled to the toilet during an argument. A final ruling on his sentence is expected by the end of the week.
Scholtz told the court Pistorius had suffered financially and found asking others for assistance humiliating.
Pistorius lost millions of dollars in endorsements and sponsorships after reaching the pinnacle of his fame in London 2012 when he became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, reaching the 400-metres semi-finals.
Pistorius had enrolled in a correspondence course for a degree at the London School of Economics and had been offered a job with a charity working with children in Africa, Scholtz added.
Outside the court, a group of people held up placards backing the athlete, one of them with the message: "Worldwide supporters of Oscar Pistorius".
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Heavens)