Skip to content

Prosecutor wants Oscar Pistorius under mental observation

May 12, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

Oscar Pistorius Reuters

The lead prosecutor said he is applying to have Oscar Pistorius held for mental observation after a forensic psychiatrist testified the runner had an anxiety disorder at his murder trial Monday.

Pistorius has generalized anxiety disorder and is on depression treatment, said psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster, who visited the runner twice this month. Vorster said the condition may have affected how Pistorius reacted to the situation when he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013, but he still was able to distinguish right from wrong.

Lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Vorster’s testimony justified an application to refer Pistorius for mental observation.

“I’m bringing that application based on this witness’ evidence,” Nel said. “This court will not have an option but to refer Mr. Pistorius for mental observation.”

Pistorius’ lead defense attorney, Barry Roux, argued against the application because Pistorius could still distinguish right from wrong and was not delusional.

Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, said he thought an intruder was locked inside his bathroom when he shot four times through a locked door, hitting and killing Steenkamp inside last year.

He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius, 27, could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.

On Monday, the trial’s 30th day, Vorster said Pistorius’ anxiety and stress developed over time, from when his legs were amputated below the knee at 11 months old to his parents’ divorce at age 6, his mother’s death at age 15, breaking ties with his father at 21 and the increasing demands of being a famous professional athlete.

Vorster said Pistorius was raised to believe his external environment was threatening and became hypervigilant. His mother slept with a firearm under her pillow.

“As one is increasingly anxious, one feels more and more insecure about one’s personal safety, even though factually one’s safety may not be threatened,” Vorster said. “You perceive your surroundings as being threatening when maybe they aren’t.

“He was aware that he was a public figure, and believed that this made him at an increased risk of being attacked or burgled.”

Pistorius felt isolated and alone and tried to combat those feelings by inviting friends to sleep over, but he was still distrustful and guarded, the psychiatrist said.

Pistorius’ anxiety disorder and physical vulnerability go hand in hand, possibly affecting how he reacted when he fatally shot Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder, Vorster said.

“He would have been more likely to fight as his capacity to flight was compromised,” by not having his legs, she said. “I’m not saying this constitutes a mental illness.”

She said Pistorius’ anxiety disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis rather than a mental disorder but said there was “no harm” in Nel’s suggestion Pistorius be referred for mental observation.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 3:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Here’s NBC News’ full coverage of the trial.

Latest Posts
  1. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva wins World Championship; U.S. just misses medals

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:41 AM EDT

    Elizaveta Tuktamysheva Getty Images

    Next year, Tuktamysheva can go for a feat not seen since 2001.

  2. U.S., Canada women’s hockey teams renew rivalry at World Championships

    Mar 27, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT

    AP AP

    The U.S. has a new former NHL player as head coach, is missing a major Sochi star and hopes to end a losing streak to Canada.

  3. How to watch Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman’s comeback gymnastics meet

    Mar 27, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT

    Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman Getty Images

    The Olympic champions are slated to compete for the first time since London 2012 this weekend.

  4. Yuzuru Hanyu tops World Championships short program; Jason Brown leads Americans

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:54 AM EDT

    Yuzuru Hanyu Getty Images

    The U.S. men are unlikely to secure three spots for the 2016 World Championships.

  5. Madison Chock, Evan Bates take ice dance silver at World Championships

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:53 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    A French couple became the youngest World champions in 40 years.

  6. U.S. women struggle, trail Russian brilliance after World Championships short program

    Mar 26, 2015, 10:14 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Elizaveta Tuktamysheva landed a triple Axel in one of the greatest short programs of all time.

  7. Canadians win World pairs title; best U.S. finish since 2011

    Mar 26, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT

    AP AP

    The last time Canada won a World title in pairs was before the 2002 judging scandal.

  8. U.S. pairs outside top five after World Championships short program

    Mar 25, 2015, 9:44 AM EDT

    AP AP

    A slight improvement could mark the best U.S. pairs finishes since 2002.

  9. Usain Bolt to race individually in U.S. for first time since 2008

    Mar 25, 2015, 9:13 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Bolt’s last appearance in New York produced his first world record.

  10. Madison Chock, Evan Bates top World Championships short dance with personal best

    Mar 25, 2015, 8:53 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Olympians could become the second U.S. ice dance couple to win a World Championship.

  11. Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview World Championships men’s, pairs events

    Mar 24, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The Olympic and World champion returns to the site of a bloody collision.

  12. Boston 2024 calls for statewide referendum for Olympic bid

    Mar 24, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT

    Boston 2024

    Boston will not move forward with an Olympic bid if a majority of state and city residents don’t support it.

  13. Watch USA Luge video promoting fastest sport on ice

    Mar 24, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    USA Luge

    Olympians Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer star in an inside look at the sport.

  14. U.S. would top 2016 Olympic medal standings in virtual projection

    Mar 24, 2015, 9:27 AM EDT

    Rio 2016

    Tuesday marked 500 days out from the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony.

  15. Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview World Championships women’s, ice dance events

    Mar 23, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT

    Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds Getty Images

    Three U.S. women have a shot at the podium, and an American ice dance couple could win gold.

  16. Upcoming milestones for Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin

    Mar 23, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT

    Lindsey Vonn, MIkaela Shiffrin Getty Images

    Both skiers may look to branch out next season.

  17. Park Tae-hwan, Olympic champion swimmer, banned 18 months

    Mar 23, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT

    Park Tae-hwan Getty Images

    Park tested positive for testosterone on Sept. 3.

  18. World Figure Skating Championships schedule

    Mar 23, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT

    Ashley Wagner Getty Images

    Plus, what’s at stake for U.S. skaters in Shanghai.

  19. Another world record for 90-plus-year-old relay team (video)

    Mar 23, 2015, 11:14 AM EDT

    Track and field Masters world record

    The oldest competitor at USATF Masters Indoors wants to run a 100m at age 100 at the Penn Relays.