Oscar Pistorius ruled mentally sound when he shot dead his girlfriend

One month ago, Oscar Pistorius disappeared into a South African hospital, weepy-eyed and wan, following several tough weeks of testimony. For a man as graceful as he, the first double-amputee Olympian, his testimony had been halting, festooned with oddities, inconsistencies and stumbles.

Afterward, one of the defense witnesses contradicted a key bit of his testimony, and then a star pathologist — hired by Pistorius to bolster his defense — abruptly announced that he would not testify. Things weren’t looking good for Pistorius.

But then a surprise opportunity was granted Pistorius, who fatally shot his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day of 2013 and has since claimed he thought she was an intruder. A defense witness testified he suffered from a generalized anxiety disorder, which, if true at the time of the killing, would mean that he would be found not guilty by reason of mental illness. The judge ordered a full psychological evaluation, and Pistorius vanished for weeks.

On Monday, he returned, but the defense of Oscar Pistorius faced more bad news. The much anticipated psychological report found that he was of sound mind when he squeezed off four bullets into his bathroom door, killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was on the other side. He hadn’t been suffering from any mental illness at the “time of the commission of the offense that would have rendered him criminally not responsible of the offenses charged,” the findings concluded. “Mr. Pistorius was capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act.”

Whether Pistorius was mentally ill at the time of the shooting, or during the trial itself, he has always appeared to appreciate the wrongfulness of his act. Pistorius, who is said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, has wept during nearly every day of the trial, vomited several times and cried out in a keening wail. How much of it has been posturing or genuine has been unclear — like much else that happened that mid-February night when Pistorius killed his girlfriend.

Pistorius said they had been a loving couple and had gone to sleep that night after sharing a quiet evening at home. He claims he awoke in the middle of the night and believed someone had broken into his Pretoria mansion. Feeling vulnerable without his prosthetic legs, he claims he hobbled to the bathroom, screamed at the perceived intruders, and shot, only to realize that he had actually killed Steenkamp.

The prosecution has a very different set of events. It says Pistorius and Steenkamp shared a combustible relationship, and that night they had had one more of their many fights, which culminated in Pistorius killing Steenkamp.

Much of Pistorius’s defense had centered on vulnerability. It has said Pistorius acted out of rash vulnerability when he killed Steenkamp. It has said after he did it, his screams had been so high in pitch that neighbors may have mistaken them for a female’s. And on Monday morning, the defense again returned to the chorus.

Witness Gerald Versfeld, who performed Pistorius’s amputations when he was an infant, read aloud several statements the athlete has made regarding the difficulties he has with his disability. “My balance is better in the light,” he says Pistorius told him. “In the dark, I really struggle…. I need my arms to balance. I fall often.” The runner said it’s “extremely painful” sometimes. “I fall when I get out of bed,” he said. “The dog has knocked me over many times.”

Without his prosthetic legs, Versfeld said, Pistorius’s ability to flee any danger would be “severely impaired.” How would he describe Pistorius in such a state?

“Vulnerable.”

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.
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Terrence McCoy · June 30, 2014