Oscar Pistorius judge to rule on psychiatric tests

Updated 8:07 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
01:51 - Source: CNN
Testimony in Pistorius trial gets testy

Story highlights

NEW: Judge Thokozile Masipa will rule Wednesday on whether Pistorius must be tested

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel says he understands testing could bring a long delay in the trial

A psychiatrist testified that Pistorius suffers general anxiety and is depressed

Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp but says he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder

(CNN) —  

Oscar Pistorius prosecutor Gerrie Nel wants the South African track star sent for independent psychiatric evaluation, he said Monday, in a move that could delay the athlete’s murder trial for a month or more.

Gerrie Nel filed a motion asking the judge to require the tests, arguing that if there is any chance the defendant’s mental health is an issue, the court must “err on the side of caution.”

Pistorius admits shooting Steenkamp but says he thought there was an intruder in his house. He has pleaded not guilty.

The athlete’s defense team is trying to show that Pistorius made a genuine mistake and responded reasonably on the night he shot Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will announce her decision about psychiatric observation Wednesday, she said, and adjourned court until then.

The testing would last 30 days, and Pistorius would need to wait for it to be scheduled, meaning the trial could be put on hold for months.

Pistorius’ lead defense lawyer, Barry Roux, argued against new tests for his client, saying Nel’s reading of the law is “unfortunate.”

He mounted an impassioned case for going ahead with the trial, giving Nel an opening to begin his rebuttal with an acerbically gentle: “One thing I agree with, we shouldn’t be emotional.”

The court has been debating the onetime Olympic sprinter’s “general anxiety disorder” this week as the trial appeared to be heading toward its end.

Psychiatrist Merryll Vorster testified Tuesday that the anxiety disorder comes out in his “excessive” concern about security, friendships lacking in depth and short-term sexual relationships.

And, she said: “People with generalized anxiety probably shouldn’t have firearms.”

A psychiatrist testified Monday that Pistorius has an anxiety disorder stemming from his double amputation as an infant and his unstable parents.

The psychiatrist took the stand Monday morning for the defense, going all the way back to when the disabled sprinter was 11 months old.

Pistorius would have experienced the amputation of both of his legs below the knee at that time as a “traumatic assault” because he was too young to speak or understand what was happening to him, she said in court.

His parents then put pressure on him to appear normal, and his mother abused alcohol at times after she and Pistorius’ father divorced, she said.

She raised him and his siblings “to see their external environment as threatening” and “added to the anxiety,” Vorster said.

Pistorius earlier testified that “Everything I learnt in life, I learned from her.”

The athlete is depressed now and feeling guilt from having killed Steenkamp, Vorster said Monday.

Nel responded by comparing the athlete’s mental state to post-traumatic stress disorder and saying the law required psychiatric observation.

Heading into danger

Vorster also addressed the question of why, on the night he killed Steenkamp, Pistorius took his gun and went toward the sound of what the thought was danger rather than trying to get away.

Because of his disability, she said, when he faces a fight-or-flight situation, he cannot flee, so his instinct is to fight.

Nel then pressed the psychiatrist on whether Pistorius was mentally ill and whether he could distinguish right from wrong.

She said he could.

If the trial continues after the psychiatric evaluation, Judge Masipa must decide whether Pistorius genuinely made a mistake or whether he murdered Steenkamp intentionally.

If she does not believe the athlete thought there was an intruder, she will find him guilty of murder and sentence him to at least 15 years in prison, and possibly life.

South Africa does not have the death penalty.

If Masipa accepts that Pistorius did not know Steenkamp was the person he was shooting at, she could find him guilty of culpable homicide, a lesser charge than murder, or acquit him, according to CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps.

A verdict of culpable homicide would leave the sentence at the discretion of Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Nel has fought aggressively to show that Pistorius argued with Steenkamp before killing her.

The state contends that Pistorius argued with Steenkamp before killing her.

The defense team is seeking to cast doubt on the state’s case and needs to show only that there is a reasonable doubt that Pistorius meant to kill Steenkamp.

Argument or error?

There is no dispute that Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp in his home early on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2013.

The trial has seen Pistorius break down repeatedly, crying, wailing and sometimes throwing up as the court sees and hears evidence about Steenkamp’s death.

Vorster said the athlete’s physical distress was real.

Masipa must decide whether Pistorius genuinely made a terrible mistake or whether he murdered Steenkamp intentionally.

Pistorius is arguably the world’s most famous disabled athlete, known as the “Blade Runner” for the carbon-fiber blades he runs on.

Sports fans worldwide saw Pistorius a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

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