Oscar Trial: Pistorius to face a panel of psychiatrists

PRETORIA – Oscar Pistorius is to be sent for mental observation at a state psychiatric facility.

Judge Thokozile Masipa on Wednesday ruled that the state had made a strong case in their application for Pistorius to be sent for mental observation to determine whether mental illness had rendered him not responsible for his actions, and granted the order.

Judge Masipa said her decision was based on the evidence of Dr Merryll Vorster, a forensic psychiatrist called by the defence.

She said the state had submitted that Dr Vorster was called on because the accused was a poor witness, and that the application for mental observation was “strangely” opposed on behalf of the accused.

Judge Masipa had said the defence counsel had argued that it didn’t appear that Pistorius was not criminally responsible at the time of the incident and that the court should not act on a mere allegation of incapacity.

“I do not agree that there are no allegations. The accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible, but the issue raised on his behalf cannot be ignored. The allegations have been substantiated by Dr Vorster,” Judge Masipa said.

Vorster had dealt with past medical history, habits and mental state of the accused and had made a psychiatric diagnosis. She said Pistorius suffered from generalised anxiety disorder which may have affected his conduct.

Dr Vorster had found that Pistorius’s illness was consistent with his evidence that he heard a noise, became scared and experienced escalating levels of anxiety. She said his physical disability made him more vulnerable. He had a long history of GAD that had increased over time.

Vorster had found that all the anxiety factors were operating at the time of the offence and would have been compounded by Pistorius’s physical vulnerability and general perception that his environment was threatening. He was likely to react with a fight response rather than flight.

Masipa found that Dr Vorster said two aspects operating at the time of the offence were: the accused’s physical vulnerability as an amputee and his GAD which was pervasive and had been present for many years.

“Although she said she did not think GAD was a mental illness, she stated ‘I think it is clear that Mr Pistorius has a psychiatric illness… but it may be that his ability to act was compromised by his GAD’.” Judge Masipa said.

She said the evidence placed before the court showed that the accused may now have another defence – that of mental incapacity. And this evidence of Dr Vorster had not been contradicted.

Judge Masipa found that the court was not equipped to deal with the evidence, which was in line with the accused’s own evidence.

“A proper enquiry would inter alia ensure that the accused gets a fair trial,” Judge Masipa said, adding that she did not feel that the defence’s claims that they had another witness ready to testify with regard to fight or flight response could be of help.

“I know that a referral means more delays – but this is not about anyone’s convenience but rather that justice be served.”

She said the aim of a referral was “not to punish the accused twice” but to rather ensure that he gets a fair trial. She favoured the idea of his evaluation being done on an outpatient basis.

Judge Masipa ruled: “I am satisfied that a case has been made by the state and I shall grant that order and it shall be handed down on Tuesday next week.”