The lengthy murder trial of Oscar Pistorius is expected to get underway again Monday in South Africa after a one-month hiatus in which he was evaluated by mental health experts.
The tests were ordered by Judge Thokozile Masipa after a psychiatrist testified for the defense that the double-amputee Olympic sprinter feels vulnerable because of his disability and has an anxiety disorder about crime in South Africa. Pistorius is on trial for the Valentine’s Day 2013 murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and at issue is whether he shot her to death after mistaking her for an intruder, as he says, or whether he deliberately shot her after an argument.
A panel of one psychologist and three psychiatrists were told to assess whether he could understand the wrongfulness of his act when he shot Steenkamp through a closed bathroom door in his home.
It seems surprising that the trial, which began March 3, is still in progress, but the independent assessment by professionals, which was requested by the prosecution, will be important. It could affect the judge’s deliberations on the verdict or the severity of the sentence if he is found guilty. (South Africa abolished trial by jury in 1969.) Pistorius is accused of premeditated murder, which carries a life sentence and also faces a related gun charge as well as two other unrelated gun charges. If he is found not guilty, the court could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide, which is based on negligence and would carry a sentence of around 15 years.
CNN notes that there are five steps left in the case: “the defense needs to finish with its witnesses, both sides will present their closing arguments, the judge will set a date to render her verdict, there will be a mitigation of sentence phase if Pistorius is found guilty of anything, and then the judge will deliver the final word on a sentence. If Pistorius is convicted on any of the charges, we could see a sentencing date as soon as the end of July.”
Pistorius was evaluated as an outpatient at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria and has been staying at the home of his uncle. This being the Pistorius trial, there is a possibility of another delay. One of the psychiatrists who evaluated him suffered a heart attack, but the trial is nonetheless expected to resume.