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Oscar vulnerable on stumps, says doctor


oh no oscar

INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Pretoria - The possibility that Oscar Pistorius had a mental disorder that could have affected his behaviour the night he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp has been thrown out by a team of psychiatric professionals.

Pistorius was under observation for 30 days after this theory was proposed by one of the defence's witnesses in his murder trial.

Six weeks ago, Judge Thokozile Masipa granted the State's request to have Pistorius mentally evaluated to determine if the witness's own diagnosis was correct. The athlete then spent 30 days under observation at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital where a panel of psychologists and psychiatrists constructed a report on his mental state.

This was all in a bid to determine if Pistorius was suffering from a general anxiety disorder, as diagnosed by defence psychiatrist, Dr Merryl Vorster.

She testified that this disorder could have affected Pistorius's behaviour because it would have meant he suffered more fear and anxiety during times of stress than another person.

Pistorius has claimed that he believed an intruder was in his house on the night he accidentally killed his girlfriend, which was why he shot four times through his own bathroom door, thinking the intruder was inside the toilet cubicle.

On Monday morning, a report by the Weskoppies psychiatric team was submitted to the Pretoria High Court.

“Mr Pistorius did not suffer from a mental defect or mental illness at the time of the commission of the offence (that altered his behaviour)... Mr Pistorius was able to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act,” prosecutor Gerrie Nel read from the report's conclusion to the court.

Nel said that the State accepted these findings.

Defence advocate Barry Roux said that his team had only received the report this weekend and needed to consult on it. But he said it was unlikely that anything would be in contention.

Nel said that the State was also still perusing the detailed report.

The defence then called one of its final witnesses, Dr Gerry Versfeld, an orthopaedic surgeon.

Versfeld said he had operated on Pistorius as an infant, and advised his parents on how to treat the athlete's birth defects. He remains Pistorius's doctor to this day.

Versfeld described how Pistorius's disability affected his every day life, from how he had to take baths instead of showers and how he struggled to balance on his stumps in the dark.

Pistorius had told the doctor that when on his stumps, he was more likely to fall over, and even his dog had knocked him over many times.

Versfeld said that these defects would often cause Pistorius pain, especially on his left stump.

However, even on his artificial legs, Pistorius would sometimes suffer from back pain.

Versfeld handed over an X-ray of Pistorius's stumps, and showed how some remnants of the athlete's heel directly behind the stump would make it uncomfortable if pressure was placed on it.

Pistorius was called from the dock to demonstrate his balance and mobility without his prosthetic legs.

Versfeld pointed out that the soft tissue on Pistorius's stumps was very mobile, and this tissue could slide out. Sometimes bearing weight on his stumps would cause pain and Pistorius would fall down, according to the doctor.

He suggested that Pistorius was vulnerable while on his stumps.

Versfeld also said it was unlikely that Pistorius could have struck the bathroom door while on his stumps, as he would fall over.

The State has previously argued Pistorius was on his stumps when he tried to break down the door with a cricket bat.

Pistorius claims he couldn't open the door after realising he had shot Steenkamp and had used the bat to try and break it open.

Versfeld said the only way Pistorius could have swung the bat with any force was to have used his one hand to balance while using the other to swing the bat.

Nel began his cross-examination by saying that Pistorius had come to visit the doctor for the analysis he submitted to the court only after the paralympian had testified earlier this year.

Nel said that according to Pistorius's testimony, the athlete had walked, gun in hand to the bathroom on his stumps. He was able to fire four shots while on his stumps, and Nel asked how this would have affected Pistorius's balance.

Versfeld said that the recoil could have knocked Pistorius off his stumps, but he was unaware of the amount of recoil he would have experienced from a 9mm pistol.

Nel said that from the bathroom, Pistorius returned to the bedroom and searched the room while on his stumps, never falling.

He was also able to move two fans and pick them up without his prosthetics.

Versfeld said that the larger fan could have been used as a “tripod” and be a balancing aid when Pistorius was moving it.

Nel asked if Versfeld's lengthy relationship with Pistorius had affected his ability to testify objectively, but the doctor insisted the evidence he provided was not biased.

Nel then asked Versfeld about his report that said Pistorius's ability to ward off danger could be impaired while on his stumps "without a weapon".

Versfeld said he was referring to the situation Pistorius had been in on the night of the shooting.

The report also revealed Pistorius struggles to balance on his stumps in the dark. Nel asked if electric cords, or duvets on the ground while he was moving would be a problem. The doctor said they would.

In his re-examination, Roux said he would move more into the context of the shooting incident.

On the night Pistorius claimed he thought an intruder was in his house, which led to the shooting.

Versfeld agreed with Roux that in a stressful or frightening situation, Pistorius would have been in a state of heightened tension, possibly rushing on adrenaline.

shain.germaner@inl.co.za

The Star

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.


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