Skip to content

Prosecutor wants Oscar Pistorius under mental observation

May 12, 2014, 11:02 AM EST

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. Pope jokes: I won’t be around for 2024 Olympics (video)

    Dec 19, 2014, 2:27 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Rome 2024 bid could include events in Vatican City.

  2. Michael Phelps gets probation after guilty plea in DUI case

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:41 PM EST

    Michael Phelps AP

    Phelps was supported by retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

  3. Steven Nyman records Val Gardena hat trick (video)

    Dec 19, 2014, 9:11 AM EST

    Steven Nyman Steven Nyman

    Nyman has won three World Cup races, all in Italy.

  4. Bradley Wiggins on Lance Armstrong, bluffing in Tour de France

    Dec 18, 2014, 4:39 PM EST

    Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong Getty Images

    “He was incredible at that, almost befriending you, and then he’d slip the knife in your back.”

  5. Stephen Colbert and the Olympics

    Dec 18, 2014, 3:33 PM EST

    Stephen Colbert Getty Images

    Colbert had a memorable time at the 2010 Olympic speed skating oval and in an interview with Bob Costas in Vancouver.

  6. Adelina Sotnikova to miss Russia Figure Skating Championships

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    Adelina Sotnikova Getty Images

    Olympic champion tore an ankle ligament in November.

  7. Lindsey Vonn: I don’t know if I’ll ski slalom again

    Dec 18, 2014, 11:14 AM EST

    AP AP

    Vonn entered five races in Vancouver 2010. She may never do that again at a global championship.

  8. Jon Drummond banned 8 years after assisting Tyson Gay’s doping

    Dec 17, 2014, 5:38 PM EST

    Jon Drummond Getty Images

    Decision details Gay’s acquisition and use of performance-enhancing drugs.

  9. Fukushima wants to host 2020 Olympic events

    Dec 17, 2014, 5:31 PM EST

    AP AP

    Fukushima’s previous governor pitched the area to be part of Tokyo 2020, too.

  10. Brazil names its Olympic sports athletes of the year

    Dec 17, 2014, 3:29 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    A look at host nation medal contenders for Rio 2016.

  11. Wilson Kipsang angry that missed drug test made public

    Dec 17, 2014, 2:37 PM EST

    AP AP

    “It is breach of privacy with malicious target to soil my name.”

  12. Spotlight on Ayumu Hirano until I-Pod, White return

    Dec 17, 2014, 1:51 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Japanese teen says he wasn’t satisfied winning silver in Sochi.

  13. South Korea eyes top four in 2018 Olympic medal standings

    Dec 17, 2014, 9:55 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    History shows that’s quite an ambitious goal.

  14. U.S. will bid for 2024 Olympics, no city chosen yet

    Dec 16, 2014, 7:12 PM EST

    Team USA Getty Images

    USOC could wait until February to announce its city.

  15. Mad Dash: Drug-resistant super bacteria found in Rio bay (video)

    Dec 16, 2014, 11:36 AM EST

    AP AP

    Bacteria found next to the starting point for Rio Olympic sailing events.

  16. Se Ri Pak wants to coach, not play in 2016 Olympics

    Dec 16, 2014, 9:57 AM EST

    AP AP

    South Korea’s most decorated LPGA Tour player would have a tough time qualifying for Rio 2016.

  17. Adrian Peterson won’t try for Olympics, but other RBs might

    Dec 15, 2014, 1:51 PM EST

    AP AP

    Two retired running backs could join a long list of NFL Olympians.

  18. Sochi champions passed over for Athlete of the Year awards

    Dec 15, 2014, 1:38 PM EST

    AP AP

    Roger Federer won the Swiss men’s award, in a year he didn’t win a Grand Slam, over a Slam winner and a two-time Sochi gold medalist.

  19. Katie Ledecky to be one of D.C. 2024 Olympic bid presenters

    Dec 15, 2014, 11:49 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The USOC is expected to announce if it will bid for the 2024 Olympics on Tuesday, and possibly name the city.