PRETORIA, South Africa May 12, 2014 — -- Oscar Pistorius' own psychiatric witness told a court today that the paraylmpic sprinter could be a danger to society if armed with a gun because of a life-long battle with a mental disorder that stemmed from having his legs amputated while he was an infant.
The testimony of Dr. Merryl Vorster prompted prosecutor Gerrie Nel to indicate that he will ask that Pistorius undergo psychiatric evaluation. If the requested is approved, Pistorius would have to spend a month in a hospital being evaluated.
Pistorius' murder trial appeared to enter the final week of testimony today. He is charged with killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. Pistorius, 27, claims he mistook his lover for a burglar. He could face at least 25 years in prison if convicted.
Vorster told the court that Pistorius suffers from generalized anxiety disorder brought on by difficulties handling the amputation of his lower legs, his mother’s death and his growing fame.
Pistorius’ legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. Vorster highlighted the impact of Pistorius’ double amputation at the “pre-language” stage of his development, saying without the ability to understand language, the boy would have experienced the amputation of his lower legs as a "traumatic assault.”
Vorster said Pistorius "appears to be a mistrustful and guarded person," a tendency that went back to his mother who slept with a gun under her pillow. She said that the star sprinter displayed "escalating levels of anxiety" as he got older.
The psychiatrist said under cross examination that Pistorius knew right from wrong, but his generalized anxiety disorder could have influenced his actions the night he shot Steenkamp because of his constant state of fear.
Vorster testified that Pistorius' physical vulnerability also meant that his first impulse when it comes to a fight or flight situation would almost always be to fight since it was physically difficult for him to flee. Pistorius was on his stumps when he shot Steenkamp.
The prosecutor asked Vorster if a person who is suffering from a general anxiety disorder would be a danger to society if he had access to a gun, and Vorster replied, "Yes."
Vorster described Pistorius as a person acutely affected by losses during his life.
Despite the surgeries to amputate his legs, Pistorius was brought up to believe he was normal, giving him little opportunity to find peace with his situation, Vorster said.
“Concealing his disability made him less able to access the emotional support he needed,” Vorster said.
His mother died when he was 15 years old, a crushing loss for the teen, Vorster said. He later became estranged from his father at age 21.
The psychiatrist testified that Pistorius’ anxiety increased as his fame rose and that he grew increasingly more concerned about crime. At the time of the shooting, she said, his physical vulnerability and his anxiety disorder would have converged.
She also told the trial court that since shooting Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius suffered from depression and that she believed his vomiting in the courtroom was a genuine sign of emotional distress.