Oscar Pistorius trial: Athlete to be evaluated as outpatient at South Africa's Weskoppies psychiatric hospital

The athlete is expected to attend Weskoppies psychiatric hospital for 30 days

Oscar Pistorius will be evaluated as an outpatient at a psychiatric hospital to determine whether his state of mind played a part in the shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The athlete is expected to attend Pretoria's Weskoppies psychiatric hospital for 30 days, beginning 26 May, from 9am until 4 pm, or until he is excused by medical staff.

Pistorius will be examined by a panel of doctors, including Dr Leon Fine, Dr Herman Pretorius and Dr Jonathan Scholtz, who will determine whether he was able to appreciate the "wrongfulness" of his actions the night he shot and killed his girlfriend through a locked toilet door on 14 February, 2013.

Last week, judge Masipa granted the state's application for Pistorius to be referred to a psychiatric hospital, citing the testimony of Dr Merryl  Vorster, a psychiatrist and expert witness for the defence, who argued the athlete suffers from a generalised anxiety disorder. Her testimony raised the possibility that Pistorius' criminal responsibility could be reduced as a result of his disorder.

"Even if the independent assessment confirms her diagnosis, the court will have to decide how and to what extent it affects the verdict," said Johannesburg-based lawyer David Dadic.

 

In her testimony, Dr Vorster told the court Pistorius understands the difference between wrong and right, but his "reaction to situations would be different" to those of an able-bodied person without an anxiety disorder, which made him "hyper vigilant" and fearful for his own safety, and his actions should be seen in that context.

Chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, accused the athlete of changing his defence- from self-defence, to automatism and now mental illness- and questioned the timing of Dr Vorster's testimony, who assessed him only after he gave evidence.

Mr Nel also suggested the athlete's defence introduced a mental health disorder to the case as a "fall-back" because Pistorius was an "unimpressive" witness. Barry Roux, the athlete's defence counsel, vigorously denied this. 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 assessment.

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 court will resume on 30 June to hear the results of the evaluation.

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