Oscar faces possible psychiatric evaluation

Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, May 12, 2014. Picture: REUTERS/Chris Collingridge
Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, May 12, 2014. Picture: REUTERS/Chris Collingridge

Judge Thokozile Masipa will have to decide if Oscar Pistorius should be referred for psychiatric observation after the testimony of defence witness and forensic psychiatrist Professor Merryll Vorster.

Vorster testified that she had diagnosed Pistorius with general anxiety disorder as a result of two interviews she conducted with him earlier this month.

Pistorius’s advocate, Barry Roux, argued that there was nothing in Vorster’s report to indicate her diagnosis would mean Pistorius couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong when he fired four shots through his toilet door in the early hours of February 14 last year, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Vorster’s diagnosis was classified as a mental illness and would impact on Pistorius’s ability to act in accordance with a sense of right and wrong.

This, he said, left the court with no option but to refer Pistorius for observation. Nel added that this was an unintended consequence, on the part of the Paralympian’s defence team, of calling Vorster to testify.

Nel was granted an early adjournment to prepare his final cross-examination questions for Vorster tomorrow.

Roux will then re-examine Vorster, after which Nel is expected to formally bring his application before the court.

Earlier Vorster testified that Pistorius suffers from a “general anxiety disorder”. She said  the roots of his anxiety probably lay in the amputation of his legs at a young age.

This anxiety was compounded by the divorce of his parents, as well as by his mother’s death when the Paralympian was 15-years-old.

After this, Pistorius’s anxiety increased as his athletics career began to take off and he came under increased pressure and gained more exposure in the media.

Vorster told the high court in Pretoria that Pistorius was ashamed of his disability and the heightened sense of vulnerability he felt when not on his prosthetic legs.

She also testified that the athlete had an acute anxiety about crime and was hyper-vigilant. She believed that his increased public profile made him more susceptible to burglary.

Because of this, Vorster said, the security measures Pistorius had put in place in his Silver Woods Estate home in Pretoria were out of proportion to those of general South African society.

Vorster also told the court that during her consultation with Pistorius in the months following the shooting, his emotional responses, crying and retching had been, in her opinion, genuine. She added that Pistorius had repeatedly expressed guilt for killing Reeva Steenkamp.

Vorster believed Pistorius’s anxiety disorder would have contributed to the way he responded to what he had thought were the noises of an intruder entering his bathroom in the early hours of February 14 last year.

She said that because of his anxiety and feelings of vulnerability, Pistorius would be more inclined to react to threatening situations with a fight, rather than flight, response.

Nel questioned Vorster whether Pistorius’s general anxiety disorder could be seen as a mental disability.

She said that would be for the court to decide.

Nel asked if Pistorius could distinguish between right and wrong and whether his capacity to make the right decisions was diminished at the time.

Vorster said the court would have to consider the factors.

However, Nel said that if Pistorius suffered from diminished responsibility at the time of the shooting, then he should be admitted for evaluation.

Nel asked for a brief adjournment to study Vorster’s report and the Criminal Procedure Act.

Earlier the trial focused on whether wood splinters from Pistorius’ bathroom door were caused by bullets or being bashed by a cricket bat.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nell was continuing his cross-examination of  ballistics expert Thomas “Wollie” Wolmarans.

Nel displayed a photo of the toilet on screens around the court and asked for it to be zoomed in to show the splinters.

“There is at least one splinter,” Wolmarans said.

“It fell there [after the gunshots]… or it could’ve been of the blow of the cricket bat. My opinion is that it was rather from a shot that was fired.”

The paralympic athlete is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He shot her dead through the locked door of his toilet in his Pretoria home on February 14 last year. Pistorius has denied guilt, saying he thought she was an intruder about to open the door and attack him. The State contends he shot her during an argument.

On Monday (12/05/2014), Nel questioned Wolmarans on tests he carried out. He told the court he had to conduct an experiment with the firearm twice because he could not fire rapidly.

“The first firearm that I used was not friendly with that type of ammunition,” he explained.

“I was not able to fire rapidly.”

Questioned by Nel on Friday, Wolmarans highlighted differences between his conclusions and the State’s.

Pistorius is also charged with three contraventions of the Firearms Control Act – one of illegal possession of ammunition and two of discharging a firearm in public.

He has denied guilt on these charges as well. –  Sapa, with Tymon Smith

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