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Pistorius could face psychiatric tests
Publish Date: May 13, 2014
Pistorius could face psychiatric tests
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his ongoing murder trial, in Pretoria on Monday. PHOTO/AFP/POOL
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PRETORIA - Prosecutors will apply to have Oscar Pistorius committed for one month of mental evaluation after a psychiatrist on Monday told his murder trial the Paralympian suffered from an "anxiety disorder".

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued the sprinter should go to a facility for 30 days to test a defence psychiatrist's claim that the condition may have had an impact on his state of mind before he shot and killed his girlfriend, allegedly believing she was an intruder.

"The state is bringing that application... that this court will refer Mr Pistorius for mental observation," he said, after a heated to-and-fro with defence lawyer Barry Roux and defence witness Meryll Vorster.

Opening the eighth week of evidence, the defence called the forensic psychiatrist to testify about the 27-year-old double amputee's feelings of vulnerability.

"It is my opinion that Mr Pistorius has an anxiety disorder," said Vorster, recounting stressful factors in the Paralympic gold medallist's life that have influenced his response to danger.

"Mr. Pistorius' reaction to the perceived threat during the incident of 14 February, 2013, should be considered in the light of his physical vulnerability and his diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder," said Vorster, who compiled her report this month.

"When exposed to a threat Mr. Pistorius is more likely to respond with a fight response rather than a flight response as his physical capacity for flight is limited," said the psychiatrist, wearing black-rimmed glasses and a black blazer.

As Nel cross-examined Vorster, Pistorius sat in the dock and wept silently.


Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued the sprinter should go to a facility for 30 days. PHOTOs/AFP/POOL


Ballistics expert for the defence Tom "Wollie" Wolmarans responds to questions during the murder trial. PHOTO/AFP/POOL


Oscar Pistorius's lawyer Barry Roux reacts during the testimony of a retired South African Police Service forensics expert. PHOTO/POOL

His lawyers appeared shocked that Nel wanted to send their client for medical observation.

As the prosecutor was telling the court he would make an application for such an assessment, defence lawyer Roux leaned back in his chair, casting his eyes up to the heavens.

The court adjourned early for the prosecution to study the psychiatric report, before more questioning on Tuesday and the formal application for tests.

"It was rather a surprise that it (the report) came out at such a late time of the proceedings. My feeling is that one would have expected he would have been assessed far earlier on, even before the case started," said criminal lawyer William Booth.

"If he's found unfit to stand trial, well that's the end of the case, then he's detained in a mental institution," said Booth, speaking from Cape Town.

However, he said, it's more likely Nel wants to test the defence's evidence, either confirming or disproving Vorster's diagnosis.

"It's about whether the evidence can be accepted or not," said Booth. "Nel has the full right to somebody else assessing Pistorius."

During two months of trial, the defence has sought to portray the world-famous athlete as almost manically obsessed with safety after a difficult childhood and in the face of high crime levels in South Africa.

The star sprinter claims he mistakenly shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked toilet door, believing she was an intruder in his upmarket Pretoria home.

'Threatening environment'

Pistorius, nicknamed the "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic limbs, has pleaded not guilty to intentionally killing Steenkamp, as well as three other firearms charges.

If found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces 25 years in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails and an abrupt end to his once glittering sporting career.


Pistorius reacts during his murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. PHOTO/AFP/POOL
 


A red laser dot is lined up next to the bullet holes on the door at the high court in Pretoria for a forensic demonstration. PHOTO/AFP/POOL
 


A South African policeman and vehicle stationed outside the house of Olympic amputee sprint star Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria. PHOTO/AFP

Vorster, who also interviewed Pistorius's close family and friends to compile her report, said the athlete's disorder began when his parents encouraged the double-amputee to ignore his disability and act like a normal boy.

"Over time this could result in anxiety," she said.

The Pistorius children were not "soothed" by their mother, Sheila, who slept with a firearm under her pillow and "abused alcohol intermittently," continued the psychiatrist.

"The children were reared to see their external environment as threatening," said Vorster, who said Pistorius's mother "added" to her children's anxiety.

As the psychiatrist was giving her testimony, Pistorius's sister Aimee sat stone-still, staring into the distance.

When their mother died, the star sprinter was a teenager and lost his only "adult primary attachment figure," said the psychiatrist. His parents were divorced at the time.

At age 21, a rising athletic star and financially independent Pistorius "broke all ties with his father," she said. Soon after, he bought a gun.

"Individuals with an anxiety disorder work hard to control their environment," said Vorster, "in a way, his strict training regime and his diet helped him to alleviate his levels of anxiety."

She said his celebrity status aggravated his condition.

"He developed a poor self-image with feelings of inadequacy," said Vorster. "Overall, Mr Pistorius appears to be a distrustful and guarded person."

AFP

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