Mental disorder not factor in Pistorius shooting

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius was not
suffering from a mental illness when he killed girlfriend Reeva
Steenkamp and was able to understand the wrongfulness of what he had
done, according to psychiatric reports submitted Monday at the Olympic
athlete’s murder trial.
The conclusions by a panel of experts,
read aloud by chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel, appeared to remove the
possibility that the double-amputee runner could be declared not guilty
because of a mental disorder, which would result in his being committed
to a mental institution.
The court-ordered evaluation was
conducted during a one-month break in the trial, after a psychiatrist
testifying for the defense, Dr. Merryll Vorster, said that Pistorius had
an anxiety disorder that may have contributed to the shooting in his
home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius said he feels
vulnerable because of his disability and long-held worry about crime,
Vorster noted.
Nel had requested an independent inquiry into
Pistorius’ state of mind, suggesting that the defense might argue that
the athlete was not guilty because of mental illness. The examination
was conducted at a state psychiatric hospital by a psychologist and
three psychiatrists.
On Monday, Nel announced the findings when
the trial resumed. However, he quoted only briefly from the conclusions,
and the entire reports were not publicly released, raising questions
about what else they contained.
Pistorius has testified that he
fired through a closed bathroom door, killing Steenkamp, in the mistaken
belief there was a dangerous intruder in his home. The prosecution has
alleged that Pistorius, 27, killed 29-year-old Steenkamp after a
Valentine’s Day argument.
Pistorius faces 25 years to life in
prison if found guilty of premeditated murder, and could also face years
in prison if convicted of murder without premeditation or negligent
killing. He is free on bail.
Later Monday, defense lawyer Barry
Roux called surgeon Gerald Versfeld, who amputated Pistorius’ lower legs
when he was 11 months old, to testify about the runner’s disability and
the difficulty and pain he endured while walking or standing on his
stumps. Pistorius was born without fibulas, the slender bones that run
from below the knee to the ankle.
At Roux’s invitation, Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two legal assistants left the dais to closely
inspect Pistorius’ stumps.
The
athlete was on his stumps when he killed Steenkamp, and his defense
team has argued that he was more likely to try to confront a perceived
danger than to flee because of his limited ability to move without
prosthetic limbs. Versfeld testified that Pistorius’ disability made him
"vulnerable in a dangerous situation."
During cross-examination,
Nel questioned the surgeon’s objectivity and raised the possibility that
Pistorius could have run away from a perceived danger on the night of
the shooting. He also said Pistorius rushed back to his bedroom after
the shooting and made other movements that indicated he was not as
hampered as Versfeld was suggesting.
Roux, the chief defense
lawyer, also called acoustics expert Ivan Lin to testify about the
challenges of hearing something accurately from a distance.
Neighbors
have said in court that they heard a woman screaming on the night
Pistorius shot Steenkamp, which could bolster the prosecution’s claim
that the couple were arguing before Pistorius opened fire. The defense,
however, has suggested the witnesses were actually hearing the
high-pitched screams of a distraught Pistorius after he realized he had
shot Steenkamp.
At times during the trial, Pistorius has sobbed
and retched violently, prompting the judge to call adjournments. On
Monday, Pistorius was calm and took notes during testimony.