/ 30 June 2014

Oscar Pistorius: Sane but stressed

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius

The night that he shot Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius did not suffer the kind of mental ailment that would imply reduced criminal culpability or an inability to distinguish right from wrong, the high court in Pretoria heard on Monday.

After a month of observation by a team of psychologists and psychiatrists, it took just five minutes for the court to deal with its report. Members of both professions did not find the kind of pathology that would make Pistorius either unable to stand trial or that would influence how his actions should be judged.

Prosector Gerrie Nel asked for the report after Pistorius’s defence argued that he suffered from generalised anxiety disorder.

Both prosecution and defence preliminarily accepted the finding, although defence advocate Barry Roux cautioned that his team would still examine the two reports in detail, and may dispute points at a later stage.

Post-traumatic stress
Pistorius’s legal team never appeared to expect, or to be seeking, a finding of diminished mental capacity. Before court proceedings started on Monday, Pistorius’s family – members of whom expressed irritation not previously evident – said it was ludicrous that a disciplined, high-achieving sportsman would have his sanity questioned.

The full reports were not immediately made public, but in cross-examination Nel mentioned that Pistorius had been found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Pistorius was the subject of lengthy interviews, personality tests and cognitive tests for the compilation of the reports, which are generally considered the definitive finding on an accused’s mental health.

With the matter of mental illness settled, at least for the moment, Roux wasted no time in calling Gerry Versfeld, the doctor who originally amputated Pistorius’s legs as a baby, and who examined Pistorius in May this year.

Pistorius has difficulty walking on his stumps, Versfeld said, suffering considerable pain if he mis-steps even slightly, with bad balance that can be compounded by the dark making him liable to fall over, as he often does.

“On his stumps, in a danger situation, his ability to flee is severely impaired and his ability to ward off danger is severely impaired,” Versfeld said of his findings.

Heightened vulnerability
Though Nel did not immediately challenge the defence’s implication – that Pistorius could not have swung a bat at the bathroom door behind which Steenkamp was without first putting on his prostheses – the prosecutor took issue with Versfeld’s finding of heightened vulnerability, another seemingly important pillar of the defence.

Pistorius, Nel said, testified that he ran back to the bedroom after firing through the bathroom door, holding a gun while doing so, and said he had earlier moved fans around, all while on his stumps.

The defence is expected to call several more witnesses.