Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic sprinter suspected of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year, must undergo a mental evaluation, the judge in the case has ordered. The move is likely to halt the ongoing trial indefinitely.
The surprise move by the Pretoria High Court judge was triggered by the testimony of a psychiatrist, who stated that the 27-year-old sprinter has been suffering from anxiety disorder ever since he was an infant; an emotional response that could have been caused by the amputation of both legs due to genetic disorder.
Pistorius has been accused of deliberately shooting at his house's toilet door, knowing that someone was there. He continues to deny the charges, arguing that he mistook his 29-year-old girlfriend Steenkamp for a dangerous intruder, who may have broken into his house through the toilet.
"A doubt has been created" that the athlete could have a psychiatric issue that would potentially change the ultimately verdict, and therefore, Pistorius must undergo the test, Judge Thokozile Masipa said on Wednesday.
"The accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible at the time of the incident in so many words, but evidence raised on his behalf cannot be ignored," she said of the testimony by Dr. Merryll Vorster on Monday, which saught to explain how Pistorius had suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.
In her ruling, the judge said that the South African criminal code makes it necessary for a person to be evaluated, if the accused person is alleged not to be criminally responsible or mentally ill.
Masipa said that such an official evaluation will ensure that Pistorius would get a fair trial.
On Monday, forensic psychiatrist Vorster had told the court that Pistorius suffers from anxiety disorder, and this would have influenced his actions on the day he shot Steenkamp.
"It is my opinion, my lady, that Mr Pistorius has an anxiety disorder. If he was afraid that there was an intruder, then certainly having a generalized anxiety disorder would have affected the way he reacted to that fear," Vorster had told the court.
On Tuesday, prosecution lawyer Gerrie Nel made the referral application after the testimony by Vorster on Monday.
According to legal experts, the judgement would ultimately rest on the judge's understanding of the athlete's state of mind, when he pulled the trigger in the night of 14 February 2013.
The prosecution is seeking to show that the defense keeps changing its reasons on why Pistorius fired the rounds of shots at the toilet door that night. The defense started with 'punitive self-defense' and then moved on to accidental shooting, and now they have sought to link the incident to his anxiety disorder.