Experts will assess whether athlete was criminally responsible for shooting that killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenka
A panel of psychiatrists will decide whether Oscar Pistorius was criminally responsible for the shooting that killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, after his murder trial was postponed for his mental health to be assessed.
The athlete will begin a 30-day psychiatric evaluation on Monday at Weskoppies hospital, a state institution in Pretoria, South Africa.
But Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed with the defence that the Olympic and Paralympic sprinter should be assessed as an outpatient, attending the hospital only on weekdays between 9am and 4pm.
The decision was taken in part to speed up the already delayed trial process – the wait for an inpatient bed can be several months – but has been interpreted by some observers as “preferential treatment”.
Setting out the terms of Pistorius’s evaluation, Masipa said: “The panel [of mental health professionals] will establish whether the accused was by mental illness or defect criminally responsible for his actions.
“The panel will also seek to establish whether Mr Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act, or of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act.”
Dr Merryll Vorster, a defence witness and forensic psychiatrist, had previously told the court she did not believe Pistorius was incapable of telling right from wrong. But she did express doubt over his ability to act in accordance with his understanding of right and wrong.
Pistorius denies murdering Steenkamp, claiming to have mistaken her for an intruder.
The panel overseeing Pistorius’s assessment will include Dr Leon Fine, a psychiatric and medical legal specialist; Professor Herman Pretorius, a psychiatrist at Weskoppies hospital; and Dr Jonathan Scholtz, a clinical psychologist.
The defence had opposed the application by the state to refer Pistorius for evaluation, pointing out that neither side was arguing that he was mentally ill when he shot Steenkamp.
But its argument was undermined by the evidence given by Vorster, who told the court that the athlete’s generalised anxiety disorder, combined with his physical vulnerability – he had both lower legs amputated as a baby – could have affected his actions.
This testimony cannot be ignored, ruled Masipa.
The court will resume on 30 June to hear the reports filed by the medical panel. Should they rule that Pistorius does not lack criminal capacity under South African law, the murder trial will continue, with the defence indicating it will call further witnesses.
If they find that Pistorius’s actions were significantly affected by mental illness, however, the trial could be forced to end immediately with a verdict of not guilty. Any diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder could also be used to argue for a reduced sentence if he is convicted of murder.