BBC News – Pistorius sent for tests at Pretoria psychiatric hospital



Judge Thokozile Masipa

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Judge Thokozile Masipa: “Whether the accused by reason of mental illness or mental defect was…. responsible for the offences charged”

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial has ordered him to start daily tests on Monday to assess his mental state when he killed his girlfriend.

Judge Thokozile Masipa told the South African athlete to attend Weskoppies psychiatric hospital in Pretoria as an outpatient for a month.

It comes after a defence witness said the double amputee was suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (Gad).

Mr Pistorius denies intentionally killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

He says he accidentally shot her through the toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year in a state of panic, mistaking the 29-year-old model and law graduate for an intruder.

‘Criminally responsible’

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It’s another twist – and another big delay – in a trial that has not lacked for drama these past 30-something days”

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The prosecution had argued the tests were essential after forensic psychiatrist Merryll Vorster told the court in Pretoria the double amputee was “a danger to society”.

But the defence vigorously opposed the move.

Judge Masipa said on Wednesday that four appointed psychiatrists would “inquire into whether the accused by reason of mental illness or mental defect was at the time of the commission of the offence criminally responsible for the offence as charged.”

She said the team would decide whether he was “capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act”.

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius arrives at the courtThe Olympic and Paralympic track star must attend Weskoppies psychiatric hospital in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius (L) chats with his brother Carl in courtMr Pistorius spoke to his brother Carl (right) after getting the details of his psychiatric assessment
File photo: Oscar Pistorius (right) and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a picture in Johannesburg, 7 February 2013Mr Pistorius says he mistook Reeva Steenkamp – model and law graduate – for an intruder

Court proceedings were adjourned until 30 June.

Legal experts say that the case may well hinge on the judge’s understanding of the athlete’s state of mind when he pulled the trigger.

Generalised anxiety disorder (Gad

  • Generalised anxiety disorder is a medically-recognised, long-term condition that is different from feeling a bit anxious
  • People with Gad feel anxious on most days and worry about a wide range of situations and issues rather than something specific
  • It is thought to affect around one in 25 people at some point in their lives and is more common in women than in men
  • Symptoms vary and can be physical – making it tricky to diagnose
  • People with Gad may have difficulty concentrating, feel tired and irritable, feel sick, dizzy or sweaty and experience aches and pains
  • Gad tends to run in families, can follow stressful events, and may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Different treatments are available – the main approach is using talking therapies, relaxation techniques and medication

They say the prosecution is keen to show that the defence keeps changing its reasons why Mr Pistorius fired his gun – from putative self-defence, to accidental shooting, and now to something linked to his anxiety disorder.

Prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel has also said he is trying to prevent mental illness being used as an argument in any future appeal.

Last week Judge Masipa said that the criminal code stipulates that if an accused person is alleged not to be criminally responsible or is alleged to be mentally ill, he should be evaluated.

Weskoppies psychiatric hospital was founded in 1892 and is a 1,400-bed hospital affiliated to the University of Pretoria.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, so the athlete’s fate will ultimately be decided by the judge, assisted by two assessors.

If found guilty of murder, Mr Pistorius could face life imprisonment. If he is acquitted of that charge, the court will consider an alternative charge of culpable homicide, for which he could receive about 15 years in prison.

20 May 2014 | 10:35 am – Source: bbc.co.uk
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