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Mental disorder not factor in Pistorius shooting

Published: Monday, June 30, 2014 1:57 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP Photo/Ihsaan Haffejee)
Oscar Pistorius is seated inside a courtroom in Pretoria, South Africa, June 30, 2014. The murder trial of Pistorius resumed Monday, after one month during which mental health experts evaluated the athlete to determine if he has an anxiety disorder that could have influenced his actions on the night he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius was not suffering from a mental illness when he killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and was able to understand the wrongfulness of what he had done, according to psychiatric reports submitted Monday at the Olympic athlete's murder trial.

The conclusions by a panel of experts, read aloud by chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel, appeared to remove the possibility that the double-amputee runner could be declared not guilty because of a mental disorder, which would result in his being committed to a mental institution.

The court-ordered evaluation was conducted during a one-month break in the trial, after a psychiatrist testifying for the defense, Dr. Merryll Vorster, said that Pistorius had an anxiety disorder that may have contributed to the shooting in his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Pistorius said he feels vulnerable because of his disability and long-held worry about crime, Vorster noted.

Nel had requested an independent inquiry into Pistorius' state of mind, suggesting that the defense might argue that the athlete was not guilty because of mental illness. The examination was conducted at a state psychiatric hospital by a psychologist and three psychiatrists.

On Monday, Nel announced the findings when the trial resumed. However, he quoted only briefly from the conclusions, and the entire reports were not publicly released, raising questions about what else they contained.

Pistorius has testified that he fired through a closed bathroom door, killing Steenkamp, in the mistaken belief there was a dangerous intruder in his home. The prosecution has alleged that Pistorius, 27, killed 29-year-old Steenkamp after a Valentine's Day argument.

Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty of premeditated murder, and could also face years in prison if convicted of murder without premeditation or negligent killing. He is free on bail.

Later Monday, defense lawyer Barry Roux called surgeon Gerald Versfeld, who amputated Pistorius' lower legs when he was 11 months old, to testify about the runner's disability and the difficulty and pain he endured while walking or standing on his stumps. Pistorius was born without fibulas, the slender bones that run from below the knee to the ankle.

At Roux's invitation, Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two legal assistants left the dais to closely inspect Pistorius' stumps.

The athlete was on his stumps when he killed Steenkamp, and his defense team has argued that he was more likely to try to confront a perceived danger than to flee because of his limited ability to move without prosthetic limbs. Versfeld testified that Pistorius' disability made him "vulnerable in a dangerous situation."

During cross-examination, Nel questioned the surgeon's objectivity and raised the possibility that Pistorius could have run away from a perceived danger on the night of the shooting. He also said Pistorius rushed back to his bedroom after the shooting and made other movements that indicated he was not as hampered as Versfeld was suggesting.

Roux, the chief defense lawyer, also called acoustics expert Ivan Lin to testify about the challenges of hearing something accurately from a distance.

Neighbors have said in court that they heard a woman screaming on the night Pistorius shot Steenkamp, which could bolster the prosecution's claim that the couple were arguing before Pistorius opened fire. The defense, however, has suggested the witnesses were actually hearing the high-pitched screams of a distraught Pistorius after he realized he had shot Steenkamp.

At times during the trial, Pistorius has sobbed and retched violently, prompting the judge to call adjournments. On Monday, Pistorius was calm and took notes during testimony.

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