Oscar Pistorius Trial: Athlete sent for 'psychiatric evaluation'

Terms of the ruling, including the length of his psychiatric evaluation, will be read in court next Tuesday

Oscar Pistorius will be sent for a compulsory psychiatric assessment at a mental hospital in South Africa as his murder trial takes a new twist.

Granting the prosecution's request for Pistorius to undergo an independent mental health assessment, Judge Thokozile Masipa cited the testimony of Dr Merryl  Vorster, a psychiatrist and expert witness for the defence, who argued the athlete suffers from a generalised anxiety disorder that "may" have impacted his actions the night he shot and killed his girlfriend through a locked toilet door.

"The accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible but evidence raised on his behalf clearly raise the issue and cannot be ignored," Judge Masipa told Pretoria's High Court on Wednesday morning, adding that it would be preferable for him to undergo the evaluation as an outpatient.

The court has adjourned until next Tuesday, when the terms of the ruling, including the length of his psychiatric evaluation, will be read in court. Pistorius could spend up to 30 days in observation at a mental health institution under Section 78 of the South African Criminal Procedures Act.

"This is a major development and could go both ways for Oscar," said South African lawyer Marius du Toit. "If an independent expert confirms he suffers from a mental disorder, this strengthens his case and the judge will have to take this into account.

"However, if this is not the case, the state will refute that his anxiety disorder affected his actions in the shooting and will put (Gerrie) Nel on a strong course."

Arnold Pistorius, uncle of Oscar Pistorius, told reporters outside the North Gauteng High Court the family was "comforted" by the judge's decision and her commitment to ensure a "fair trial".

 

On Tuesday, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel questioned the timing of Dr Vorster's testimony and suggested the athlete's defence introduced a mental health disorder to the case as a "fall-back" because Pistorius was an "unimpressive" witness. Dr Vorster met Pistorius twice after he gave evidence.

Mr Nel also accused the defence of changing its defence- from self-defence to automatism, and now mental illness- and argued the court has the "right to know what his defence is" at this stage of the trial, where a verdict seemed imminent, but will now be inevitably delayed.

Barry Roux, his defence counsel, angrily rejected the prosecution's application, arguing that Dr Vorster's diagnosis did not constitute a "mental disorder" and the psychiatrist agreed that Pistorius understands the difference between wrong and right.

But Mr Nel insisted that, facing "at least three defences" and a potential appeal on the basis of mental illness, the court needed an independent opinion from a second expert on Pistorius's mental health.

If convicted of murder, which the athlete denies, Pistorius faces a mandatory life sentence which usually carries a minimum of 25 years in jail, though mitigation could reduce it in this case. If found guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide, he could face 15 years or a non-custodial sentence.

The trial continues.

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