Judge weighs Oscar’s mental state

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Paralympian Oscar Pistorius during his murder trial at the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday. Picture: Daniel Born

Pretoria - Oscar Pistorius's state of mental health has to be tested by other trained professionals, according to the prosecution in his murder trial.

The athlete - on trial for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp - will know on Wednesday morning if he'll have to spend weeks under observation in a psychiatric facility.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel began his application to have Pistorius sent for psychiatric evaluation shortly after the end of psychiatrist Professor Merryll Vorster's testimony.

He argued that Vorster was a well-known and respected psychiatrist, and during her evidence she had suggested that Pistorius was suffering from general anxiety disorder (GAD).

According to Nel, Vorster believed that Pistorius's actions were affected by his disorder on the night he shot and killed Steenkamp.

He cited section 78 of the Criminal Procedures Act that said that any accused in such a condition be referred to a psychiatric facility for observation.

Nel said that if the application is granted, there could be a delay in proceedings, but that it was important to properly know Pistorius' mental state.

He said the defence had waited too long to bring Vorster to the stand, and that in no previous testimony was Pistorius's psychiatric state been brought to the fore.

 

He asked Judge Thokozile Masipa that if there was any hint of a mental disorder, Pistorius should be referred, as other judges had done in the case law he presented.

Nel suggested the defence team may be using the psychiatric testimony as a fall-back defence, that his anxiety contributed to his actions when he shot through the toilet cubicle door.

He said the State would argue that Pistorius was not the most impressive witness, and that the timing of Vorster's testimony was suspect.

He said that Vorster had only psychologically examined Pistorius's version, and that the case needed experts with a global view who had a better concept of all of the evidence.

He added that Vorster had mentioned Pistorius could be dangerous with firearms because of his disorder.

Nel admitted he did not think GAD played a role in the shooting, but that the testimony had to be tested by other psychologists.

The prosecutor said the onus was on the defence to show why Pistorius should not be referred.

Defence advocate Barry Roux began a series of fiery retorts by arguing that Nel had “unfortunately” misinterpreted the law.

He said that an allegation of a psychiatric problem does not instantly warrant a referral.

Roux said that the case law Nel used were exceptional cases where each trial “screamed out” for a referral for the accused.

The defence advocate said that the act referred to a mental illness and it had to be severe enough to make an accused “incapable” of knowing right from wrong.

Roux suggested that the State was using this application as a ruse to get a second opinion on Pistorius's mental health.

He said that neither the State nor defence believes Pistorius is mentally ill, and this was “not good enough”.

He argued that automatism, or Pistorius not having control of his actions, was not what the defence was arguing, meaning Nel's argument of three separate defences was incorrect.

Roux said that another witness would be called to testify on Pistorius's “fight not flight” nature and vulnerability as a double-amputee, thus meaning the application was premature.

He said that should Nel be intent on making the application, it should only be after the next witness.

In reply, Nel pointed out he was the counsel in one of the cases he cited, saying he knew it very well.

He argued that Roux’s indication that he would call another witness was “holding the court to ransom” and again urged the judge to refer Pistorius for observation.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said she would make her decision ton Wednesday morning.

Shain.germaner@inl.co.za

The Star


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