PRETORIA, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius will start a period of psychiatric evaluation at a state institution next week, the judge at his murder trial ruled on Tuesday as she postponed court proceedings until June 30.
Judge Thokozile Masipa took just a few minutes to read out her ruling that the double-amputee Olympian must present himself at 9 a.m. on Monday and every weekday after that at the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria.
Pistorius will be treated as an outpatient, Masipa ruled, and will be allowed to leave the facility in the South African capital each day at 4 p.m. or when “formally excused” by hospital authorities. His period of evaluation will be for no more than 30 days, the judge said, and will depend on how long a panel of four mental health experts needs to compile a report for the court.
Pistorius, who is charged with premeditated murder for fatally shooting his girlfriend last year, stood in the Pretoria courtroom with his hands crossed in front of him and looked at the judge as she explained her decision.
A psychiatrist called by Pistorius’ defence lawyers testified at the murder trial last week that she believed the runner had an anxiety disorder from childhood which may have contributed to him killing Reeva Steenkamp last year. That prompted the chief prosecutor to apply that he be sent for psychiatric tests.
Masipa said Tuesday that the panel of psychiatrists and psychologists would now determine whether any mental illness may have affected Pistorius’ capacity to be “criminally responsible” for killing Steenkamp. She said the panel would evaluate “whether he was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act.”
Pistorius, 27, claims he shot Steenkamp, 29, by mistake through a toilet stall door in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013, thinking she was an intruder. Defence witness Dr. Merryll Vorster, the psychiatrist, testified that Pistorius had generalized anxiety disorder and his apparent fear of violent crime and his vulnerability as an amputee may have contributed to the killing.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel then asked the court to send him for mental evaluation to establish if he had a genuine disorder that could have affected his actions when he shot Steenkamp multiple times through the toilet door with his 9 mm pistol.
Pistorius could be acquitted on the grounds of mental illness. It could also be used by his defence team to argue for a lighter sentence if he is convicted of murder. The world-famous disabled athlete faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty on the premeditated murder charge.