Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

The Oscar Pistorius murder trial has come to a dramatic halt as the judge rules that he will be sent for extensive psychological evaluation, following claims that the athlete has an anxiety disorder.

Giving evidence for the defense, psychiatrist Dr Merryll Vorster said that Pistorius, who is a double-amputee, suffers from anxiety as a result of his disability that gives him “hyper vigilance”. This condition could mean that he is prone to fight rather than flight in the face of danger. The assessment could acquit Pistorius of the murder charge on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The athlete, nicknamed blade runner, is accused of shooting Reeva Steenkamp through a locked toilet door at his home in Pretoria on Valentines Day last year. He claims he mistook her for an intruder, while state prosecutors argue he murdered her after a row escalated.

Though anxiety is not seen as a mental illness, Vorster said: “”I think it is clear that Mr Pistorius has a psychiatric illness. He certainly was able to appreciate the difference between right and wrong, but it may be that his ability to act in accordance with such appreciation was affected by this generalised anxiety disorder.”

Judge Masipa said that evidence suggesting this disorder may have influenced his decision to fire “cannot be ignored” and that assessment is an “integral part of a fair trial”. She has sent Pistorius for a 30 day evaluation at a state institution, however, he will be seen as an outpatient and will continue to stay at is uncle’s comfortable home in Pretoria.

During the evaluation, a psychiatrist will assess Pistorius frequently through observations and tests. Though the waiting list for this sort of evaluation can take months, the high profile nature of this case is expected to allow Pistorius to take priority.

Though this sounds like a stellar argument for the defense, it was in fact the prosecution who put the request forward. It is unclear what prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s intentions are, however, there are numerous possible motives. Nel, who has previously claimed that Pistorius was of a “clear mind” when he fired the fatal shots, could be looking to remove grounds for claims of psychological problems during sentencing or appeal.

It would also mean that any questions of a mental disorder would be completely disregarded as the trial moves forward. This is a risky move from Nel, which could backfire if experts conclude Pistorius has a mental disorder.

If the evaluation finds that Pistorius was mentally unstable when he shot Steenkamp, charges will be dropped. If they find that he was of a sound mind during the fatal shooting, a murder conviction will look more likely than ever.

Image: Getty