Pistorius Prosecutor Seeks Mental Health Assessment in TrialJanice Kew and Chris Spillane
Oscar Pistorius should be referred for mental observation after a defense witness said the athlete has an anxiety disorder that may have affected his actions when he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the prosecution said.
“This court will not have an option but to refer Mr. Pistorius for mental observation for 30 days,” Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said today in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. Defense lawyer Barry Roux said he will oppose the application.
Roux started the final push of the defense’s bid to undermine the prosecution’s case that the Paralympic gold medalist murdered Steenkamp after an argument, portraying the athlete as being paranoid about crime. Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, says he thought Steenkamp was a burglar when he fired four shots through a locked toilet cubicle door in his bathroom at his home on Valentine’s Day last year.
“It’s clear that Mr. Pistorius has a psychiatric illness,” said Merryll Vorster, a forensic psychiatrist at Johannesburg-based University of the Witwatersrand. “He certainly was able to appreciate the difference between right and wrong, but it may be his ability to act in accordance with such appreciation was affected by this generalized anxiety disorder.”
Vorster was asked by the defense to interview Pistorius after he had given evidence last month. The runner appeared to change his argument when he testified, saying that he fired the gun by accident and didn’t mean to pull the trigger.
Asked by Nel if an armed person with such an anxiety disorder is a danger to society, Vorster said: “Yes.”
Since the prosecution described Pistorius’s testimony last month as “untruthful” and “improbable,” Roux has called witnesses who cast doubt on the state’s version of the shooting and tried to show the runner as being emotionally distraught after the shooting.
“When exposed to a threat, Mr. Pistorius is more likely to respond with a ‘fight’ response rather than a ‘flight’ response as his physical capacity for flight is limited,” Vorster said. “The safety measures he implemented at his home appear to have been out of proportion to that of the general South African population.”
Nel has portrayed Pistorius as a short-tempered gun-lover who shot Steenkamp in a fit of anger.
Roux said May 6 he expected to conclude his case this week. The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV.
Arguing Pistorius was anxious about crime because of his disability may help the defense show he didn’t intend to kill, James Grant, Associate Professor of Criminal Law at University of the Witwatersrand, said by phone.
“It only reinforces the possibility but doesn’t establish it as a reasonable possibility, which is what the court is ultimately looking for in order to find him not guilty of murder,” he said. “None of this has anything to do with the standard to which he would be judged on a charge of culpable homicide.”
Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t intentional. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder. Pistorius has also pleaded not guilty to three separate gun-related charges.
Steenkamp was standing when the first bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, according to police ballistics expert Chris Mangena.
The model’s head wounds were consistent with her falling down, and the two abrasions on her back indicated that she had struck a hard, blunt surface, said defense witness Tom “Wollie” Wolmarans, who compiled a report on the shooting. He disagreed with Mangena’s assessment that the back wounds were the result of ricocheting bullet fragments.
Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.