How Oscar Pistorius' Psych Report Could Impact Murder Trial

When Oscar Pistorius' murder trial resumes Monday the court will hear whether he had a psychological disability when he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and that diagnosis could have a significant impact on his trial.

The trial was halted last month when Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered the Blade Runner to go through a month-long evaluation by three psychiatrists and a psychologist. Their report was handed over to the prosecutor and defense team on Friday and is expected to be introduced when the trial resumes.

The judge ordered the review after defense witness Dr. Merryll Vorster, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that legless sprinter suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, which may have had an impact on his actions when he shot Steenkamp early on Valentine's Day 2013.

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Pistorius, 27, admits shooting his lover through a locked bathroom door, but claims he mistook the South African model for a burglar. Pistorius has frequently wept and vomited several times during the trial.

Experts believe there are three possible determinations by the panel:

  • The doctors could have determined that Pistorius does suffer from a psychiatric condition which would have rendered him "mentally incapacitated" when he shot Steenkamp.A clinical psychiatrist who asked to withold his identity due to ethical and professional reasons, said this would mean that Pistorius has an underlying mental disorder that would make him unable to control his actions.

    "If this is found to be the case, Pistorius would be committed to a psychiatric hospital. He would basically become a patient of the State until it is found that he no longer poses a danger to society," the psychiatrist said.

  • Lawyer Gideon Scheepers said the second possibility is that the panel may have found that Pistorius has a mental disorder, which somehow diminished his criminal responsibility.Scheepers said this finding would have no material impact on the determination of guilt or innocence, "but it would be taken into account as a mitigating factor during the sentencing phase of the trial" if Pistorius was found guilty.

    "This would be the best possible outcome for the defense, as it might compel the judge not to hand down the minimum prescribed sentence," the lawyer said. In South Africa, the mandatory sentence for murder is life in prison, which effectively means 25 years. This sentence may be lessened if the court finds there are compelling reasons to do so.

  • The third alternative is that the four experts found that Pistorius' mental health was not an issue on the night he killed Steenkamp. Clinical psychologist Dr. Eugene Viljoen said the fact that Pistorius was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder earlier this year does not mean it was present on the night of the shooting."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," Viljoen said.

    If the panel came to this conclusion it would mean Pistorius could not use his mental state as a defense or a mitigating factor in sentencing.

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