Legal experts questioned the strategy of Oscar Pistorius' lawyers raising psychological issues stemming from his amputated legs today, suggesting it would be more appropriate testimony during a penalty phase if Pistorius was convicted.
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"I find it utterly surprising that this evidence is brought so late in the game," said defense lawyer Piet Pistorius, who is not involved in the case and is no relation to the defendant. "I would have expected Mr. Pistorius to volunteer this evidence under oath" when the paralympian Blade Runner testified for several days. "I would suggest, however, that this would be better suited during evidence in mitigation of sentence."
Oscar Pistorius, 27, is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp during a loud argument before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. He claims he mistook his lover for a burglar when he fired four times through a locked bathroom door.
His defense team questioned forensic psychiatrist Merryll Vorster today about Pistorius and she told the court that he suffers from general anxiety disorder from a series of crushing losses that began with the amputations of his legs as an infant, the loss of his mother when he was 15 and estrangement from his father at age 21.
Vorster also testified that, because of his physical disability and difficulty in fleeing, Pistorius has a propensity to fight when he is confronted with a fight or flight situation.
"I am saying his reaction to situations would be different... not that of a normal, able-bodied person’s reactions if they did not have the disorder,” Vorster testified.
Lawyer Gideon Scheepers told ABC News that if he understands Vorster's testimony correctly, it was not aimed at exonerating Pistorius but rather to explain his actions.
"It will serve a dual purpose, if accepted," Scheepers said. "Firstly it provides some explanation for his behavior and actions in as far as the consideration of intent is concerned. Secondly, if accepted, it may lead to a finding of diminished capacity to act, which in turn may have an impact at sentence when substantial and compelling circumstances need to exist to enable the court to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence."
If convicted of murder, Pistorius faces at least 25 years in prison.
Scheepers, however, questioned the timing of calling the psychiatrist, saying this type of evidence is normally tendered when a trial progresses to sentencing proceedings.
Dr. Eugene Viljoen, a clinical psychologist who has testified in several court cases and has extensive knowledge of GAD, said he is not surprised that Pistorius has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but that it does not mean he had it at the time of the shooting.
"Everything that has happened [to Pistorius] since the shooting, having to testify, being arrested, listening to the evidence - all of this would have caused GAD. In fact, it would have been abnormal if Mr. Pistorius did not develop GAD as a result of everything he's been through," Viljoen said. "One cannot say unequivocally he was suffering from the condition at the time of the incident as he was not evaluated for it and was not receiving treatment for it."