Oscar Trial: Is Oscar's anxiety defence crazy?

Pretoria - In her testimony on May 12, 2014, Prof Merryll Vorster said, in her opinion, that Oscar Pistorius was genuinely emotional in court. She explains why his wretching was not forced. Video: eNCA
Pretoria - The defence in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial has opposed the application for him to undergo psychiatric evaluation. The athlete was charged with murder for the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. Video: eNCA

PRETORIA - At 9.30am on Wednesday morning Oscar Pistorius will hear if Judge Thokozile Masipa is sending him for 30 days of mental observation in a state psychiatric facility.

After a morning of intense argument over whether or not the Blade Runner suffers from a mental illness that could have impacted on the events that led to him shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, court was adjourned.

This week the defence called specialist psychiatrist Professor Merryll Vorster to testify with regard to Pistorius’s mental state.

She diagnosed him with generalised anxiety disorder, and conceded that this constant, heightened state of anxiety could have played a role in the shooting when considered in line with the defence’s case. Considered in line with the state’s case – which is that Pistorius knowingly

murdered Steenkamp - she said, the disorder would be irrelevant.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel then brought an application for Pistorius to be sent to a state psychiatric hospital for mental observation in terms of Section 78 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

He argued that the defence had called a well-known and respected psychiatrist who had said she diagnosed Pistorius as suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, but had an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act.

She said it was a psychiatric factor that could have impacted on his actions. Nel said the disorder she diagnosed was a classified mental illness.

“In bringing this application we are mindful of the fact that, if granted, this could lead to an expensive delay. We are aware that GAD is not part of the defence of the accused,” Nel said.

Nel pointed out that no other witnesses had referred to Pistorius’s anxiety, and that the defence had elected to consult with Vorster only last week, after Pistorius had testified.

“The defence calls a witness to say that GAD may have played a role on that particular day,” Nel said, explaining that the court was now under obligation to explore the possibility that the accused suffered from some kind of mental disorder which could have played a role in his

actions. If ignored, this could later be seen as a factor that the court had not paid enough attention to.

Nel said the accused’s putative self defence claims had been changed to “I acted automatically” and had changed again with the introduction of a mental disorder.

“If this had been the defence’s case from day one, then it is unclear why the witness would only have been called at this late stage,” Nel said, alleging that the defence had resorted to calling on a psychiatrist because Pistorius had been such an “unimpressive witness”.

“My argument is that the accused should be referred,” Nel said.

Roux countered by saying that Nel’s “reading of the law is rather unfortunate”.

Roux said Pistorius did not have three defences, and there was no reason to send him for mental observation. Roux said if the court did hold there was reason, the defence had another witness ready to testify with regard to Pistorius’s vulnerability – and so the possibility of mental

observation should rather be delayed for consideration at a later stage.

Nel said it was not at all the state’s contention that Pistorius had any kind of mental disorder.

“We are reacting on the evidence of a defence witness saying ‘I diagnosed  a psychiatric disorder that may have played a role’. And that’s the end of it,” Nel said.

“I am only bringing this application to apply the law. To check on whether the accused suffered some mental illness. We’ve never presented evidence of some mental defect and we will not. But there is evidence now…” Nel said.

Judge Masipa said she would deliver her decision on the application when court resumed on Wednesday.


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