News

Ernest Wolmarans
2 minute read
15 May 2014
6:00 am

Psych tests a blow for Oscar defence

Ernest Wolmarans

The decision to send murder-accused Oscar Pistorius for psychiatric evaluation has been dubbed a major blow for the defence.

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

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s application would likely nullify Pistorius’s mental health defence, a seasoned lawyer said yesterday.

The evaluation, to be undertaken at a state psychiatric facility, would confirm or refute respected psychiatrist Merryl Vorster’s diagnosis that the Paralympian suffers from generalised anxiety disorder, which may have influenced his actions on Valentine’s Day last year.

“Nel will likely be popping the champagne tonight,” Marius du Toit from Du Toit Attorneys, said yesterday after Judge Thokozile Masipa approved the State’s application.

The order would delay the trial by up to a month but would ensure that Pistorius had a fair trial, Masipa said. “Dr Vorster’s report cannot replace a proper inquiry.”

Vorster, during cross examination, told the court the disorder would not have affected Pistorius’s ability to distinguish right from wrong, and noted it was for the court to decide whether the disorder meant his responsibility was diminished.

In a “shrewd” move, Nel filed the evaluation application – the “bite of the cherry that the prosecution should never have had”, Du Toit said.

“Pistorius will be evaluated by a panel of psychiatrists and psychologists – an examination so deep that facts that haven’t come out in court may surface. It will be a ‘mini-trial’ in itself. If the panel confirms the disorder but finds Pistorius fit to stand trial, it breaks down the mental health defence entirely and makes the evidence irrefutable,” Du Toit said. This scenario, however, was unlikely, given Vorster’s reputation as a psychiatrist.

Criminal law expert William Booth explained that a report would be submitted to the court once Pistorius had been interviewed by the panel .

The report would confirm whether or not Pistorius has a “mental illness of defect”.

“This could spell the end of the case if he is found unfit to stand trial because of not being able to understand what’s going on, either in court or at the time of the incident,” Booth said.

Pistorius would then likely then be referred to a state mental facility as a state patient for rehabilitation.

“He could well be there for the rest of his life,” Booth said.