Nel applies for Oscar to undergo mental evaluation

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

The State on Tuesday (13/05/2014) brought an application before the High Court in Pretoria to have murder-accused Oscar Pistorius admitted for mental observation.

“We are mindful that if granted that it could lead to a delay,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel said.

Nel argued that, in terms of section 78 of the Criminal Procedure Act, any indication that mental disorder may have played a part in Pistorius’s actions on the night of February 14 last year, when he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, left the court with no choice but to refer the Paralympian for observation.

Pistorius’s counsel Barry Roux opposed the application, claiming that it was a ruse by the state to obtain a second opinion.

Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned the court for the day and will make a ruling on the state’s application tomorrow morning.

Earlier Vorster said general anxiety disorder, like that which Pistorius was diagnosed with, is common.

But for it to be seen as a disorder it would have to affect a person’s life, Vorster said during cross-examination from Nel.

“People with general anxiety disorder are not dangerous as such. People with general anxiety disorder probably shouldn’t have firearms, that’s what makes them dangerous,” Vorster told Nel.

Nel asked whether a person with general anxiety disorder would be anxious in a fight. Vorster said yes, more so than normal people.

“Because the individual would be anxious about losing a relationship. If there had been an argument about a relationship a person with general anxiety disorder would have been anxious.”

She agreed that the general anxiety disorder would have played a role.

“Anxiety is a very common phenomenon. The condition [general anxiety disorder] is also a very common disorder,” she said.

“To raise it to a level of a disorder, one had to have anxiety more often than not for an expanded period of time.”

She said such a person would see situations as being more serious than what they actually were. It would cause sleep disorders, vomiting, diarrhoea, and the inability to concentrate.

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.

Nel continued to ask Vorster about the diagnosis of general anxiety disorder and if it would impact Pistorius’s general functioning. He asked Vorster if it would impair Pistorius’s functioning on various levels.

“Yes My Lady that is why it is a disorder,” she replied.

“With an anxiety disorder people are unable to set their anxiety aside.”

Nel asked about the levels of severity of the disorder.

Vorster said with every disorder there were levels of severity, but it was not obtained in her diagnosis. Nel asked if it was severe enough to be seen as a mental illness.

“I wouldn’t say that. If one had a general anxiety disorder that is severe it may impact on your capacity to lead a normal lifestyle,” she said.

“One could say it is a mental illness, but you have to look at the impact of that illness on the person.”

She said someone might become incapacitated because of all the preparations they had make to function normally, like go to work.

Pistorius was not incapacitated. He was still able to function at a high level as an athlete, and was able to socialise, but had stress, Vorster said.

Nel questioned Vorster on why Pistorius’s friends and his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor, who testified for the State, never mentioned that he was anxious.

“Most people control and conceal their anxiety… Mr Pistorius and his family were not aware that he had anxiety disorder.”

Steenkamp’s mother June Steenkamp was in court on Tuesday. She sat in the front row of the public gallery. On the other side of the front row sat the Pistorius family, including the athlete’s older brother Carl, younger sister Aimee, and uncle Arnold.

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 pleaded not guilty to these charges as well. – Sapa, with Tymon Smith

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