Oscar Pistorius suffers anxiety, psychiatrist testifies
Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) — Oscar Pistorius suffers an anxiety disorder stemming from his double amputation as an infant and his unstable parents, a psychiatrist testified at the murder trial of the South African track star Monday.
Pistorius would have experienced the amputation of both of his legs below the knee as a “traumatic assault” because he was too young to speak or understand what was happening to him, Dr. Meryl Vorster said in court.
His parents then put pressure on him to appear normal, and his mother abused alcohol at times after she and Pistorius’ father divorced, she said.
She raised him and his siblings “to see their external environment as threatening,” and “added to the anxiety,” Vorster said.
Pistorius earlier testified that “Everything I learnt in life, I learned from her.”
The defense is trying to show that Pistorius made a reasonable mistake and responded reasonably on the night he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, a model and law school graduate.
Pistorius, 27, admits that he fired four bullets through a closed door in his house, killing Steenkamp, but says he thought he was protecting himself from a burglar.
Whether the judge believes he acted reasonably could mean the difference between a verdict of murder and culpable homicide, a lesser charge, according to CNN legal expert Kelly Phelps.
If Pistorius is convicted of murder, he faces at least 15 years in prison, and possibly life. South Africa does not have the death penalty.
A verdict of culpable homicide would leave the sentence at the discretion of Judge Thokozile Masipa.
Vorster said the athlete’s general anxiety disorder meant he felt his safety was threatened even when objectively it was not, she said.
And she said he was “devastated that he killed his girlfriend.”
Steenkamp’s mother, who has been in court for most of the trial, was not there Monday to hear the evaluation.
Vorster also addressed the question of why Pistorius took his gun and went toward the sound of what the thought was danger, rather than trying to get away.
Because of his disability, she said, when he faces a fight-or-flight situation, he cannot flee, and so his instinct is to fight, she said.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel then pressed the psychiatrist on whether Pistorius was mentally ill and whether he could distinguish right from wrong.
She said he could.
Many people have general anxiety disorder, and it does not imply that one has lost touch with reality, she said.
The psychiatrist took the stand on day 30 of a high-profile trial that has gripped South Africa and much of the world.
She could be the last witness. Lead defense lawyer Barry Roux said last week that he expected to wrap up his case Tuesday.
After that, both sides will make closing arguments, and then Masipa will retire to consider her verdict.
South Africa does not have jury trials, but she is being assisted by two experts called assessors.
Nel has fought aggressively to show that Pistorius argued with Steenkamp before killing her.
The trial has seen Pistorius break down repeatedly, crying, wailing and sometimes throwing up as the court sees and hears evidence about Steenkamp’s death.
He listened with his head lowered as the psychiatrist testified Monday.
Earlier evidence has included graphic photos of the wounds; testimony from neighbors, friends, police and pathologists; and the actual door through which Pistorius fired four hollow-tipped bullets on the fateful night.
Argument or error?
There is no dispute that Pistorius shot and killed Steenkamp in his home early on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2013.
Nel tore into Pistorius over five days in court in April, saying the Paralympic medalist had argued with Steenkamp and killed her on purpose. He tried to force Pistorius to look at a picture of Steenkamp’s head after the shooting, accused Pistorius of being selfish and possessive, and said he refused to take responsibility for his actions.
The defense team is seeking to cast doubt on the state’s case and needs only to show there is a reasonable doubt that Pistorius meant to kill Steenkamp.
Masipa must decide whether Pistorius genuinely made a terrible mistake or whether he murdered Steenkamp intentionally.
Pistorius is arguably the world’s most famous disabled athlete, known as the “Blade Runner” for the carbon-fiber blades he runs on.
He fought for — and won — the right to compete against able-bodied runners at the Olympics after his Paralympic success.
Sports fans worldwide saw Pistorius a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.