Paralympian Oscar Pistorius didn’t suffer from a mental defect when he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year, a 30-day psychiatric assessment of the athlete found.
Pistorius’s murder trial resumed today at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, with Prosecutor Gerrie Nel reading from the report of three psychiatrists and a psychologist who carried out the evaluation to determine whether the double amputee is competent to stand trial for killing Steenkamp.
“Mr. Pistorius did not suffer from a mental defect or mental illness at the time of the commission of the offense that would have rendered him criminally not responsible for the offenses charged,” Nel told the court, reading from the report. “Mr. Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act and of acting in accordance with the appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act.”
Nel had requested the assessment after a forensic psychiatrist called by the defense said Pistorius has a generalized anxiety disorder that may have affected his actions when he shot Steenkamp.
Pistorius, 27, says he thought Steenkamp was a burglar when he fired four shots through a locked toilet cubicle door in a bathroom at his home. The prosecution says he killed her after an argument.
Nel asked the court to send Pistorius for an assessment after saying testimony by Merryll Vorster, a forensic psychiatrist at the Johannesburg-based University of the Witwatersrand, suggested the defense was preparing a third explanation for the shooting. The prosecutor questioned why the defense asked Vorster for an evaluation weeks after he testified in a trial that started March 3.
Pistorius originally pleaded self-defense and later, under cross-examination, said he fired the gun by accident.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux has portrayed Pistorius as a victim of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. Nel has tried to show him as a short-tempered gun-lover who shot his girlfriend in a fit of rage.
Vorster testified that Pistorius is depressed and that his grief is genuine. Nel said the athlete, who frequently broke down or vomited during the trial, only became emotional during his testimony when he was asked difficult questions.
Gerald Versfeld, an orthopedic surgeon who amputated Pistorius’s lower legs when he was 11 months old, testfied today that on his stumps the athlete felt unbalanced and vulnerable.
“On his stumps he is seriously vulnerable in a dangerous situation with a severely impaired ability to flee, severely impaired ability to ward off danger, without a weapon, and in danger of falling should he put the stump down incorrectly,” he told the court.
The defense also called acoustics engineer Ivan Lin to testify whether Pistorius’s screams could sound like a woman’s. State witnesses have testified that they heard a woman screaming on the morning Steenkamp was killed.
“Although typically one can differentiate a male and female scream, but one cannot say it reliably without exception,” Lin told the court.
Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder. He denies the charge and has also pleaded not guilty to three separate gun-related charges. If Pistorius is declared mentally incompetent, he can’t stand trial and would have to submit to psychiatric treatment.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could also consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t intentional.
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($94,000) bail since February last year. He won six Paralympic gold medals and was the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympic Games.