What Oscar Pistorius' Psychiatric Evaluation Means For His Verdict
The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius is back underway, and following his psychiatric evaluators' dramatic finding that the Blade Runner wasn't mentally incapacitated at the time of the shooting, the question on everyone's mind is this: how will Pistorius' psychiatric evaluation affect the verdict? The outcome was a long time coming, with Pistorius undergoing a full 30 days of evaluations by a four-member panel of mental health specialists, another long delay in a trial that's been full of them. But now, with the expert findings turned in, a clearer picture is beginning to form of how things are going. And by the standards of many legal observers, things aren't looking so hot for the ex-Olympian.
By In the early-morning hours of February 14, 2013, Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, South African model Reeva Steenkamp, while she was inside his bathroom. The killing touched off what's been one of the highest-profile, internationally-followed murder trials in recent memory, with Pistorius and his defense claiming he fired upon the bathroom door out of the mistaken fear that a burglar was inside, not Steenkamp. The prosecution has argued that Pistorius is lying, and that he deliberately killed Steenkamp in the heat of some manner of argument.
Later this summer, we'll finally hear Judge Thokozile Masipa's verdict in the case — and here are four ways his mental health evaluation could impact what she decides.
1. He Doesn't Have Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The biggest fact in all this? The diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which a Pistorius defense witness claimed he'd lived with since the childhood amputation of both his legs, has now been conclusively disputed by four specialists, over the course of 30 days. GAD is, as the name suggests, a somewhat sprawling diagnosis, but it's partially characterized by the following DSM-IV-TR criteria:
Had Pistorius emerged from his 30-day psychiatric evaluation with a report confirming the diagnosis, his defense would have been stronger. As it stands now, however, that angle is in tatters. Pistorius' defense rolled the dice by invoking GAD, and lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel pounced on the chance to disprove it. He succeeded, and now Pistorius' fate looks a great deal darker.
2. One of the Defense's Remaining Witnesses May Be Undercut
At the time that the trial was postponed, there were believed to be three defense witnesses remaining to testify, according to the Daily Maverick. One of those three was reportedly a psychologist, no doubt planned to give testimony that would help exonerate Pistorius.
But just as defense witness Dr. Merryll Vorster ultimately hurt her side's cause by stating her belief that Pistorius suffered from GAD, sparking the call for him to be fully evaluated, what benefit an additional psychologist provides is unclear. It's highly unlikely, whatever the testimony, that it'll bear much weight against the comprehensive, unanimous report the court now has on its hands.
3. If it Had Gone the Other Way, Leniency Was More Likely
A confirmation of Pistorius' clinical anxiety would have freed up Masipa to rule Pistorius not guilty by means of mental incapacity, having earnestly feared for his life when he fired at Steenkamp, or simply to reduce the charge to "culpable homicide" — essentially the South African version of dropping a murder charge down to manslaughter.
This is no small distinction: a murder conviction carries a life sentence (with parole eligibility after 25 years) while culpable homicide sentencing is discretionary, with a maximum of 15 years, according to The Week. But with Pistorius' mental health at the time of the shooting no longer in question, the lighter punishments are beginning to look more and more remote.
4. Gerrie Nel's Probably Excited for Closing Arguments
For a refresher, the lead prosecutor against Pistorius, Gerrie Nel, issomething of an icon for followers of the trial. A notoriously hard-charging interrogator, Nel is a bonafide star in South African law, having successfully prosecuted the former President of Interpol for corruption in 2010.
He also reduced Pistorius to a wrecked state while questioning him on the witness stand, lobbing razor-sharp accusations and picking at inconsistencies in his story, a scene that culminated with Pistorius crying out, "I did not fire at Reeva!"
Now, with Pistorius' mental health defense thwarted, Nel is surely chomping at the bit for the trial's closing arguments to begin. The Daily Maverick reports that they'll take place after another long delay for preparations. Seeing how aggressively he broke down Pistorius on the stand, and now bolstered by the report, we could all see a pretty scathing closing salvo from the "pit bull."