News

Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
13 May 2014
6:00 am

Oscar Trial: State to call for mental probe

Ilse de Lange

The State wants to have blade runner Oscar Pistorius referred for psychiatric observation in a mental hospital on the strength of the evidence of his own psychiatrist.

FILE PICTURE: Paralympian Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during his murder trial at the high court in Pretoria, Monday, 12 May 2014. Pistorius is on trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Picture: Chris Collingridge/Independent Newspapers/Pool

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel yesterday indicated he would bring an application for Pistorius’s referral for psychiatric observation while cross-examining Merryll Vorster, the forensic psychiatrist called by the defence.

Vorster testified Pistorius suffered from a generalised anxiety disorder, which did not affect his ability to distinguish between right and wrong but could have diminished his capacity to act accordingly. “I’m saying that what makes him different from a normal person is that he has a physical vulnerability and generalised anxiety disorder, so his reactions would be different.

“I’m not saying this constituted a mental illness.

“His reaction is not that of a normal able-bodied person without anxiety disorder,” she said.

She conceded a person suffering from anxiety disorder and who was in possession of a firearm would be a danger to society.

Nel said if there was a possibility that Pistorius suffered from diminished responsibility, the court was, in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, under an obligation to refer him for mental observation.

Vorster said she would not regard Pistorius’s anxiety disorder as a mental illness in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act.

“Generalised anxiety disorder is not an uncommon psychiatric diagnosis. There are many people in all walks of life with such a disorder. It affects social and occupational functioning, but does not imply one has lost touch with reality and has lost the capacity to see right from wrong.

“In this instance, I don’t believe he suffers from a lack of reality perception. I think generalised anxiety disorder is relevant to the facts and it is for the court to decide if the accused should be referred for mental observation.

“I personally cannot see the value of that,” said Vorster.

Pistorius’s advocate Barry Roux strenuously objected to Nel’s suggestion that Pistorius should be referred for observation. He argued that Nel’s interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Act was wrong and that Pistorius’s anxiety disorder was merely a factor that could be taken into account.

Nel said a psychiatrist had indicated that the diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder was relevant to the offence.

“I can appreciate that Mr Roux would say: please don’t take it so seriously … but they decided to place it before the court,” he argued.

Vorster agreed that in Pistorius’s version he had thought there was an intruder, armed himself and approached the danger.

Nel said just in that scenario, Pistorius had already indicated that he had acted “in dolus eventualis” (indirect intention) to commit murder.

“He was on his stumps. He armed himself… and started shooting, whereas he and Reeva could have escaped from the main bedroom,” Nel said.

Vorster replied that some anxious people would approach danger, especially if they could not run away.