Football Football

Pistorius: No signs of mental illness


PISTORIUS-BAILPRETORIA, June 30- The murder trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius resumed on Monday with experts saying they had found no sign of mental illness after four weeks of psychiatric tests.

“Mr Pistorius did not suffer from a mental illness or defect that would have rendered him criminally not responsible for the offence charged,” said state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

He was reading from one of two reports prepared during a month of examination by a psychiatric panel and a psychologist. Both said Pistorius could be held criminally responsible.

The 27-year-old star runner is accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

He admits shooting Steenkamp with a 9mm pistol through a locked toilet door, but says it was a mistake as he thought she was an intruder coming to attack him in the dead of night.

“Mr Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act,” said Nel.

Sitting in the dock, Pistorius stared straight ahead, unblinking, as Nel read the reports.

The month-long mental assessment was ordered by Judge Thokozile Masipa after a defence witness testified that the Paralympic gold medallist has “generalised anxiety disorder.”

The defence team claimed the condition could have resulted in a heightened fear of crime that affected his judgement the night he shot his 29-year-old girlfriend.

Nel who has been described as a pit bull terrier for his ruthless cross-examination style in the trial, asked the court to closely interrogate the psychiatrist’s diagnosis, fearing Pistorius may exploit concerns about his mental health to reset the case.

Pistorius’s defence lawyer Barry Roux said his team agreed with the report, but asked for more time to review it.

The athlete has often broken down during the proceedings, sobbing and vomiting when graphic details about Steenkamp’s death were presented to the court.

His outbursts were so frequent that his defence team started keeping a bucket close by the dock.

– Deep-seated anxiety –

After the four-week hiatus, the trial resumed on Monday with the defence calling some of its final witnesses.

They included Gerald Versfeld, an orthopaedic surgeon who amputated Pistorius’s lower legs when he was a toddler.

Versfeld testified Pistorius is wobbly on his stumps and experiences “severe pain” when standing on them.

The defence wants to show that Pistorius could not have bashed down the toilet door with the cricket bat while on his stumps, as the prosecution claims.

“On his stumps Oscar Pistorius has serious difficulty walking or standing without support,” said Versfeld, “his ability to warn off danger is severely impaired.”

In a tense moment, a clearly uncomfortable Pistorius, wearing a dark charcoal suit, was asked to show Judge Masipa his stumps and where he was vulnerable.

In cross-examination the prosecution tried to show that Pistorius’s team had overstated his immobility and that he had in fact moved around on his stumps prior to Steenkamp’s death.

The prosecution argues the shooting of Steenkamp was cold-blooded murder following a row between the young couple and has gathered evidence of a tempestuous relationship.

The defence next called Ivan Lin, an acoustics expert, to testify if Pistorius neighbours could have differentiated between a man and woman screaming.

Earlier in the trial, state witnesses said they heard a woman’s “bloodcurdling screams” the night Pistorius shot Steenkamp, suggesting the model and law graduate was screaming before she was shot.

The defence said Pistorius sounds like a woman when he screams.

“Theoretically one can differentiate a male and a female scream but one cannot say reliably, without exception… it’s a male or female scream,” said Lin, appearing to support the defence assertion it was Pistorius screaming, not Steenkamp.

His trial started in March and has attracted global media attention. He has pleaded not guilty to Steenkamp’s murder and other charges related to ammunition possession.

He faces a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted of murder.

Judicial sources say once all the evidence has been presented — estimated to take between one and two weeks — the defence and prosecution will require a few more weeks to compile their written submissions before presenting them to court.

They will return to court to answer final questions on their arguments.

South Africa does not have jury trials, so a verdict will be delivered by the judge after a few weeks’ deliberation.