‘Relaxed’ Pistorius returns to court

MURDER accused Oscar Pistorius has spent the last week relaxing, focusing his mind on his trial which resumes today. The Blade Runner, who spent yesterday with his sister, Aimee, returns to the Pretoria High Court after spending three weeks under observation at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria.

Pistorius was ordered to undergo observation by Judge Thokozile Masipa after his psychiatrist, Professor Merryll Vorster, testified that she had diagnosed him with generalised anxiety disorder which could have played a role in his actions when he shot dead his girlfriend, former Port Elizabeth model Reeva Steenkamp.

With the court likely to hear today whether Pistorius suffers from an anxiety disorder, staff at the hospital have described him as pleasant and as being relaxed during his time at the institution.

A psychologist, who cannot be named as only the hospital’s chief executive can speak to the media, said: “He was very engaging with staff and other patients. The first 10 days, when he was being escorted to the hospital, he was very tense. You could see his irritation.

“But, afterwards when he was no longer escorted, he was very relaxed, even charming. Not like what he looked and behaved like on TV in court.

“I saw him several times outside. He spoke to lots of people, laughing and joking with some of the staff and patients.”

Pistorius’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius, who revealed that the Paralympian and his sister were spending the day together, said: “Everyone, including Oscar, is relaxing. We are focusing on the days ahead. Every day is one day closer to the end. We take it day by day, exactly like Oscar.”

The observation report, to be submitted to court today, is likely to lead to one of three possible situations.

The first is that the trial continues if those on the observation panel have found Pistorius was fully criminally responsible when he shot Steenkamp.

However, if the panel has found Pistorius has some mental condition that rendered him incapable at the time of the shooting of understanding the difference between right and wrong, or acted according to that understanding, he cannot be tried for the crime and will be admitted to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely.

The panel could also report Pistorius has a condition that diminished his ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and caused him to act accordingly. In the case of diminished criminal responsibility, the trial would go ahead and it would be taken into account at sentencing.

The prosecution has said they are ready to go ahead with the trial. Pistorius’s lawyer, Brian Webber, would not say whether the defence would be ready to continue calling witnesses today.

Craig de Lange, a director at Burmeister De Lange Soni Inc, said the fact that Pistorius had only undergone a psychiatric assessment more than a year after the murder was a travesty of justice.

“He should have been evaluated 16 months ago after Reeva Steenkamp’s murder.

“For him to only undergo evaluation now is after the fact and this is actually the third defence being raised during this trial.”

He said Pistorius had initially said he had killed Steenkamp in self-defence because he believed his home was being burgled. “He later said his gun went off accidentally. The defence actually forced the state to request Pistorius be sent for mental evaluation after the testimony of his psychiatrist, but that psychiatrist only saw him shortly before testifying at the trial and not shortly after the murder.”

De Lange also said the issue of generalised anxiety disorder should have been raised during sentencing procedures as a mitigating factor. – Graeme Hosken, Marzanne van den Berg and Lee-Anne Butler

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