Pistorius to Start Psychiatric Evaluation at Pretoria Hospital

Paralympian Oscar Pistorius will begin a psychiatric evaluation at a mental-health hospital on May 26 to determine if he can be held criminally responsible for murdering Reeva Steenkamp, a High Court judge ruled.

Judge Thokozile Masipa told the court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, today that the evaluation by four psychologists and psychiatrists at the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital shouldn’t last more than 30 days. The court will reconvene on June 30, she said.

The assessment will determine “whether the accused, by reason of mental illness or mental defect, was at the time of the commission of the offense criminally responsible for the offenses charged, whether he was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act,” Masipa said.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel 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, his model girlfriend, on Valentine’s Day last year.

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. 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.

By Accident

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.

While the athlete knew the difference between right and wrong, Vorster said, “it may be his ability to act in accordance with such appreciation was affected by this generalized anxiety disorder.”

Gun Charges

Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of murder, and he’s 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.

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 ($97,000) bail since February last year. He won six Paralympic gold medals and was the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympic Games.

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