PRETORIA (Reuters) - A South African prosecutor asked on Tuesday for Oscar Pistorius to be sent for a mental evaluation after a psychiatrist told the Olympic and Paralympic track star’s murder trial he had an anxiety disorder.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued he wanted to prevent the 27-year-old sprinter, who faces life in prison if convicted of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, from later appealing on the basis of a disturbed mental condition.
Nel told the court there was a “reasonable possibility” that Pistorius suffers from a mental illness, adding that without a proper evaluation the case could later be appealed over Pistorius’ mental health.
If granted, the evaluation would likely further delay a trial now in its 31st day. Defense lawyer Barry Roux has argued against the motion, saying it was “premature” to have the evaluation done now, as he planned to call other witnesses.
Judge Thokozile Masipa adjourned the court early on Tuesday to consider the prosecutor’s request and is expected to rule on it on Wednesday.
Defense witness and forensic psychiatrist Dr Merryll Vorster testified that Pistorius, who was born without fibulas, suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder after having his legs amputated at 11 months.
The anxiety disorder, a long-term condition that causes feelings of worry or fear in a wide range of situations, has worsened as Pistorius has got older, Vorster said.
She has said his parents’ divorce when he was a child would have added to his general feelings of anxiety and insecurity.
After the divorce, Pistorius was brought up by his mother, who died of cancer when he was aged 15. He has frequently spoken of the difficulty her death caused him.
The state has sought to portray the track star as a gun-obsessed hothead who killed model and law graduate Steenkamp in a fit of rage.
The defense has argued that Pistorius had a heightened sense of fear and vulnerability because he was on his stumps when he thought he heard an intruder in his bathroom.
Pistorius has denied he killed Steenkamp in cold blood, saying he shot four times at the toilet door of his luxury Pretoria home to protect himself from what he thought was an intruder.
Pistorius competed against able-bodied sprinters on carbon-fiber prosthetics, becoming one of the most recognized names in athletics. He won a clutch of Paralympic medals and reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the London 2012 Olympics.
Writing by Nomatter Ndebele, editing by David Dolan and Andrew Heavens