The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has been told that Oscar Pistorius did not suffer from any mental defects at the time he killed Reeva Steenkamp by shooting her through his toilet door in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. This follows a 30-day evaluation period at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital where a panel of three psychiatrists and a psychologist were required to ascertain whether Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act and therefore criminally responsible for the killing.
All four members of the panel agreed that, “he did not suffer from a mental defect that stopped him acting in appreciation of right and wrong or what he was doing,” or that “would have rendered him not responsible. “ Furthermore, both the defense and prosecution accepted the findings of the panel, though both Gerrie Nel, for the state, and Pistorius’ defense advocate, Barry Roux said they might need to call members of the panel as witnesses at a later stage in the murder trial.
Judge Thokozile Masipa made the order mid-May following evidence given by a defense witness, Dr. Merryl Voster, a forensic psychiatrist, that Oscar Pistorius had suffered from general anxiety disorder (GAD) for many years, and this may have had an affect on his actions when he shot and killed Reeva.
Pistorius’ Orthopedic Surgeon Gives Evidence
Following acceptance of the panel’s report, the defense case continued with a new witness, Dr. Gerry Versveld, the orthopedic surgeon who amputated the blade runner’s legs below the knees when he was a baby, because of severe congenital deformities. While he has been his specialist doctor ever since, Dr. Versveld based his evidence on a recent, very detailed examination of Pistorius and his stumps. The crux of his evidence was that Pistorius suffers “discomfort and insecurity” in certain positions on his stumps; that he finds it more difficult to walk on hard surfaces; that his balance is better in the light; that he struggles to carry things when walking on his stumps; and that he often falls when he is not wearing his prosthetic legs. He told the court that Pistorius goes to the toilet without his prosthetic legs, but not elsewhere in the house. He baths rather than showers because he is unable to wash himself while showering. He said Pistorius had been knocked over by his dog many times and even if he stands on mosaic tiles, or even on a crease in the carpet with his stumps it is very painful.
In cross-examination Nel asked him to confirm that what he was saying was Pistorius “is vulnerable in a dangerous situation.” Then he asked if it would have been possible for the athlete to have turned around in the bathroom and “run away” rather than fire the shots that killed Reeva. Dr. Versveld said it would have been, except that Pistorius battles to walk, “and for him to turn around is quite a process.“ Nel pointed out that Oscar Pistorius (according to his own evidence) had fired his gun and then run back to the bedroom, and yet he never fell, even though he was on his stumps. Furthermore, he had the gun in his hand, and then opened the curtains (still on his stumps) and moved two fans, one three meters (nearly ten feet).
Nel also addressed the issue of Pistorius’ evidence that it had been “pitch dark” when he got out of bed having heard a noise in the bathroom that he perceived to be a burglar. Yet he had walked from the bedroom to the bathroom in the dark without falling. He had also walked around the bedroom where there were a number of obstacles on the floor including the two standing fans, an electrical extension cord, and a duvet.
In re-examination Roux maintained that there had been some illumination coming from the passage, because the light in the bathroom was on, and asked Dr. Versveld to confirm that Pistorius would only have fallen over objects if he had come into contact with them. Dr. Versveld said that he would probably have fallen if he had put his foot onto something he did not expect to be there. He also said that he probably touched the walls of the passage as he walked towards the bathroom. Furthermore, it was a fact that people in a dangerous situation, or a situation that makes them fear, allows one to “do a little more than you normally can.”
Mystery of the Missing Extension Cord
Once Dr. Versveld had completed his evidence, Roux asked Judge Masipa to make an order compelling the state to provide the extension cord that was in the bedroom at the time of the killing. Nel said they could not comply because the cord was not on the inventory of seized items and the police had no knowledge of where it was now.
Judge Masipa expressed her concern saying it was “common cause” that the cord was in the Pistorius home on February 14 and 15 last year – because it was visible in photographs. “It is very strange,” said Judge Masipa. “They locked the doors every day it was under their (police) control. It cannot walk.” However, she said could not make an order to make it available, as this clearly was not possible.
Roux said it was important to know how far the cord could extend and if she could not make the order, as a compromise they would settle for an affidavit from whoever had been in control of the house at the time. Nel said the state would provide an affidavit as requested. The cord was used to power the two standing fans in the bedroom and was an issue during cross examination by Nel of Oscar Pistorius in mid-April this year, prior to claims that he might have been suffering from mental defects.
By Penny Swift