Experts say Pistorius wasn’t mentally ill when he shot girlfriend

Oscar Pistorius Appears in South African Court

Oscar Pistorius was not mentally incapacitated when he shot his girlfriend to death, a psychiatric assessment of the athlete found.

The results of the assessment were revealed in court Monday when the Olympic sprinter’s trial resumed after a month-long break for the evaluation.

According to the findings by an independent panel of doctors, Pistorius did not suffer from a mental defect or mental illness at the “time of the commission of the offense that would have rendered him criminally not responsible of the offenses charged.”

The report added that “Mr Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act.”

Had the doctors deemed Pistorius mentally incapacitated during the shooting, the trial would have immediately ended in a verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Pistorius, 27, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, 29-year-old model and law school graduate Reeva Steenkamp, in his home in February 2013.

Pistorius admits shooting Steenkamp through a closed door, killing her, but has told the court in Pretoria that he mistook her for an intruder. He has pleaded not guilty.

The state contends that Pistorius argued with Steenkamp before killing her.

On May 20, trial Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered Pistorius to report for a psychiatric evaluation to establish whether he was criminally responsible for his actions.

The prosecution and defense both said they accepted the report’s findings. The defense resumed its case, calling Pistorius’ orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gerald Versfeld as a witness.

Psychiatrist’s testimony

Pistorius’ psychiatric testing was triggered by the testimony of a psychiatrist who said that the sprinter has suffered from generalized anxiety disorder since he was an infant, stemming partly from the amputation his lower legs.

The disorder meant Pistorius had “excessive” concerns about security and felt threatened even when, objectively, he was not, Dr. Merryll Vorster testified on May 12.

After Vorster’s testimony, prosecutor Gerrie Nel filed a motion asking the judge to require psychiatric tests, arguing that if there was any chance the defendant’s mental health was an issue, the court must “err on the side of caution.”

Nel’s extremely unusual move was essentially an effort to maneuver the court into considering an insanity or “capacity” defense even though the athlete’s legal team is not mounting one, CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps said.

Phelps said Nel appeared to be placing a high-stakes bet that experts would disagree with Vorster’s evidence.

Pistorius’ lead defense lawyer, Barry Roux, argued against the tests, describing Nel’s reading of the law as “unfortunate.”

But Masipa ordered the evaluation, saying the defense’s act of putting a psychiatrist on the stand had raised the question of the athlete’s mental health. Testing began on May 26.

Verdict

At the trial’s conclusion, Masipa will have to decide whether Pistorius genuinely made a mistake or killed Steenkamp intentionally.

If she does not believe the athlete thought there was an intruder, she will find him guilty of murder and sentence him to at least 15 years in prison and possibly life. South Africa does not have the death penalty.

If Masipa accepts that Pistorius did not know Steenkamp was the person he was shooting at, she could find him guilty of culpable homicide, a lesser charge than murder, or acquit him, according to CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps.

A verdict of culpable homicide would leave the sentence at Masipa’s discretion.

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