Oscar Pistorius must undergo psychiatric testing, ruled today, a decision that will delay the athlete’s murder trial for at least a month, but potentially much longer.
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Judge Thokozile Masipa said the court is ill-equipped to evaluate Pistorius’ mental stability, and to understand whether it factored into the Valentine’s Day 2013 shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The judge, who has expressed concerns about the duration of the trial, made it clear that she had taken the 30-day observation period into account when she came to her conclusion.
"This is not about anyone's convenience, but rather about justice being served," Masipa said.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel pushed for the tests after a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, Dr. Merryll Vorster, told the court that Pistorius suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, a condition that would make him more willing to fight than to flee when faced with what he considered a threat.
As Masipa read her ruling, the paralympian stood, clenching and unclenching his jaw.
“I think it’s clear Oscar Pistorius has a psychiatric illness,” she said.
When Vorster's psychological testimony was introduced this week, Nel sarcastically complained that Pistorius' team was changing his defense yet again.
"His initial defense was putative self-defense. Then I thought his defense was adapted to automatic firing. Now psychiatrist says he suffers from a mental disorder," Nel said on Tuesday. "We don't know which of the three versions" is Pistorius' defense, he said.
Court officials will investigate options to expedite his evaluation, as hospital backlogs could further delay the trial, which has already stretched across 31 days since it began on March 3.
Masipa said the idea was not to punish Pistorius and that the possibility of him being an out-patient should be investigated. The judge will discuss full details on the testing Tuesday when the order is officially handed down.
Before Masipa handed down her judgment, she called counsel for the state and defense to her chambers and informed them of her decision. When Pistorius’ attorney, Barry Roux, returned to court, he had a private word with his client and Pistorius could be seen heaving a huge sigh.
Pistorius, 27, is accused of premeditated murder in Steenkamp's death. The athlete, known as “Blade Runner” for his prosthetic legs, has said that he believed an intruder had entered his home. If convicted, he could face at least 25 years in prison.