The judge in Oscar Pistorius' murder trial ordered the athlete on Wednesday to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after a witness testified the Olympian suffered from an anxiety disorder, potentially delaying the trial by a month.
The prosecution had asked for the judge to approve a study of Pistorius' mental health following testimony by a psychiatrist who said the Olympian's anxiety could have shaped the way he responded to perceived threats.
Daniel Born / Pool via Reuters
Oscar Pistorius looks on during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Judge Thokozile Masipa granted that request on Wednesday, saying it would be unwise for a court to attempt a diagnosis without assistance from the relevant experts.
“Mental illness and mental defects are morbid disorders that are not capable of being diagnosed by a lay court without expert psychiatric evidence,” she said.
She acknowledged that an evaluation would delay proceedings, explaining that requests for such orders are "never taken lightly" and are "an integral part of a fair trial."
“A referral inevitably means more delays in finalizing this matter but this is not about anyone convenience but rather about whether justice has been served," she added.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel had claimed that Merryll Vorster's evidence suggested lawyers were preparing a possible defense based on a mental condition and asked the judge to send Pistorius for an independent assessment at a state hospital.
Masipa noted that Forster's evidence had raised the possibility that Pistorius may have another defense relating to his diminished criminal responsibility.
“The evidence of Dr. Forster has not been contradicted nor can it be in the absence of other psychiatric evidence,” she said. “This court is ill equipped to deal with the issue raised in Dr. Forsters evidence at this stage.”
However, Masipa acknowledged that the psychiatrist had only had two interviews with Pistorius and said it appeared that the report had been hastily prepared.
The judge stressed that the ruling was not meant to "punish" Pistorius and said that efforts should be made for outpatient evaluation.
Logistics and a timeline for the evaluation will be announced next week, she added.
Pistorius claims he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by mistake last year, fearing that there was an intruder in his home when he shot through a closed toilet door early on Feb. 14, 2013. The prosecution says he killed her intentionally after an argument.
First published May 14 2014, 1:18 AM