The tide appeared to turn for murder accused Nicolette and Hardus Lotter on Thursday when a respected psychologist said he believed they were victims of religious "programming" and "coercive persuasion", which reached "cult-like dimensions" at times.
Professor Lourens Schlebusch, an expert hired by the defence, backed up their version that they were on a religious mission to save the world and had killed their parents because they believed it to be God's will.
He added that Nicolette was a battered woman who had suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her former boyfriend, Mathew Naidoo.
"It was a highly pathological relationship," he said.
The siblings have testified before Durban High Court Judge Shyam Gyanda that they committed the crimes because they were instructed to do so by Naidoo, who convinced them he was the son of God, that God spoke through him and wanted their parents dead because they were sinners.
This version has been labelled "gobbledygook" by the State, but Schlebusch said they could not stop themselves when they killed their parents, Johan and Rickie Lotter, at their Westville home in July 2008, after being subjected to 17 months of mind-bending by Naidoo.
"The rituals, practices and alternative religious perceptions they were exposed to at times almost assumed cult-like dimensions."
Schlebusch said he had carried out strict testing during which he had ruled out any malingering, and the siblings were telling the truth.
His will be the only psychological report before the court, although he still has to be cross-examined by State advocate Rea Mina, who is being assisted by police psychologist Gerard Labuschagne.
The professor said Hardus had been teased at school and was a loner who suffered from depression. He had "obsessive religious beliefs", bordering on the delusional, which made him vulnerable to coercive persuasion, which he described as a process of "deprogramming and reprogramming".
"It changes a person's whole value system," he said. "We see it in Stockholm Syndrome, where an abducted person becomes so influenced by their abductors, they see them as the heroes."
There were other examples of cults where educated people killed others or themselves after being ordered to do so by "charismatic" leaders.
Hardus started believing that it was the right thing to kill his parents and it was a sacrifice he was prepared to make "to save the world".
"He was not a willing participant. It created high stress levels in him. He resisted it, but he became obsessed with it. He could no longer control his actions.
"In simple terms, his indoctrination altered his belief system."
Schlebusch said he did not believe that Hardus and Nicolette's defence was an "after-thought", because of the detail they had given about what had happened.
Nicolette, he said, showed symptoms of abused woman syndrome.
She too had dysfunctional religious beliefs and "borderline delusional thinking".
However, he said, it was unusual that "reality had kicked in" so quickly after the killings, apparently when a policeman had called Naidoo "the devil".
"It is unusual to have a sudden enlightened experience like that."
"Even if there is a trigger (what the policeman said), it doesn't normally suddenly happen."
He said in some cases, people's minds were twisted to the point where "you cannot get them back".
Hardus, he said, was still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and Nicolette, through her studies in theology, "was attempting to turn the clock back with her religious beliefs".
He said they had expressed "sincere remorse" for what they had done.
Under cross-examination by Naidoo's advocate, Vijay Sivakumoor, Schlebusch conceded that it appeared Nicolette had attempted to cover up her involvement in the crime and create an alibi by ensuring she was seen on cameras at the Pavilion shopping centre.
"She knew exactly what she was doing," the professor said.
"But she was on a religious mission."
Judgment is expected early next week. - The Mercury