It was Day 33 of the Oscar Pistorius trial where Oscar Pistorius is accused of first degree murder for the killing of his lover Reeva Steenkamp when Judge Masipa brought the testimony to a screeching halt. On May 20, Judge Thokozile Masipa put a delay in the testimony by ordering the Olympic athlete to undergo 30 days of intensive pyschiatric testing to determine the state of his mind during the moments when he shot his girlfriend 4 times through a closed and locked bathroom door and killed her. On June 27 the BBC has reported that an additional delay became possible in the Oscar Pistorius trial, as a key player in the psychiatric evaluation has suffered a heart attack literally at the eleventh hour. Dr. Leon Fine of Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa was scheduled to sign off on the psychiatric evaluation of Oscar Pistorius on Friday June 27, but was delayed from doing so after suffering a heart attack the Thursday evening prior.
On May 20 Judge Masipa, the presiding judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial and the woman that will determine the fate of the accused, ordered the defendant to undergo 30 days of pyschiatric testing at the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in South Africa. Judge Masipa ordered Oscar Pistorius to undergo day treatment with 4 clinicians for 30 days to have his state of mind evaluated during those moments when he pulled the trigger 4 times killing Reeva Steenkamp.
The evaluation is intended to determine if 27-year-old Oscar Pistorius was suffering from anxiety during those moments, to such an extent that he experienced what is referred to as “diminished capacity”. If he was, the experts might then determine that he is not criminally responsible for the death of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp. As this evaluation was coming to a close, the lead psychiatrist on the case, Dr. Leon Fine, suffered a heart attack just before he was required to sign off on the evaluation that was to be submitted to the courts for Monday June 30 the BBC reports.
The BBC also reports that although inconvenient, this is not likely to cause a delay in the trial scheduled to resume Monday. According to the BBC, the report was completed before Friday June 27, but was not signed by the lead psychiatrist Dr. Fine before he suffered a heart attack.
The ENCA for South Africa has reported that the psychologist section of the report was completed and signed off and submitted to the State Friday June 27. The ENCA further confirms with the BBC that this signature delay is not expected to delay the trial, and that both the State and the Defense will have copies of the signed evaluation come Monday’s trial date.
The ENCA also confirms an interesting and unusual development in the psychiatric evaluation. Karyn Maughan, reporter for ENCA in South Africa tweeted several times on June 27 in light of this development that both the State and the Defense will be given copies of this report Monday morning. Karyn Maughan has also tweeted that the psychiatric evaluation of Oscar Pistorius, despite its lacking signature, is unanimous.
This means that all medical clinicians that have evaluated Oscar Pistorius agree on exactly what was going through his mind in the moments he pulled the trigger killing Reeva Steenkamp. The 4 clinicians in charge of evaluating Oscar’s presence of mind in those moments are 3 psychiatrists and one psychologist. The psychologist has already submitted their report to the courts, according to ENCA. The remaining reports need yet to be signed by the lead psychiatrist in charge.
Dr. Leon Fine was the psychiatrist chosen by the defence, and has a specialty in anxiety disorders and also has “extensive experience” providing evidence at trial and in complex court cases according to the Daily Maverick. In addition to Dr. Fine, the 3 other clinicians on the case have extensive history as well.
Professor Herman Pretorius is a clinician with the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital and has been appointed by the Pretoria High Courts to evaluate Oscar Pistorius. His previous case history in criminal cases include a case where he evaluated a prisoner from Baviaanspoort who slit the throats of two nurses. In this case and in others he has made very clear decisions on mental states during killings stating in the Baviaanspoort killing that “there was no sign that the accused was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his deeds.”
The third member of the team evaluating Oscar Pistorius is Weskoppies resident psychiatrist Carla Kotze who also has extensive history evaluating criminal cases. Rounding out the team is the one psychologist on the team, Jonathan Scholtz who is currently working with the University of Pretoria as an Adjunct Professor. Mr. Scholtz is also Head of Psychology at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital.
All 4 of these experts agree unanimously on the state of mind of Oscar Pistorius during those moments when he pulled the trigger.
Is that normal? Examining some trial research, that is not normal in complex cases, and unusual but not peculiar in cases that seem cut and dry.
In a study conducted by the American Society for Trial Consultants it was found that the chances of 3 or more mental health experts agreeing unanimously on a complex case is “less than 33%”, and “less than 51%” on cases that are considered straightforward. The American Society for Trial Consultants also assert that in cases where all 3 or more mental health experts agree in their findings, the judge in the case in question are inclined to follow the diagnosis and opinion of the experts.
This research in addition to the unanimous findings in the Oscar Pistorius trial psychiatric evaluation suggest that there is little to no grey area in this case, at least from the point of view of the mental health experts. This suggests that there are very clear results coming from this recognized, reputable, and credible team of experts that have been given the daunting task of discovering what Oscar Pistorius has been unable to discuss at trial.
On Monday June 30 the trial is scheduled to resume despite this possible delay with the unfortunate heart attack of Dr. Leon Fine.
What will happen next?
Judge Masipa will review the reports that are expected to be complete and submitted by Monday, and the defence is scheduled to offer 3 more witnesses in the Oscar Pistorius trial according to ENCA. If the current media reports are accurate, that all 4 of the experts agree on their findings in the Oscar Pistorius trial, the experts in question will not be required to testify.
Nathih Mncube, a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority in South Africa responsible for charging Oscar Pistorius has told Sapa what will happen next.
“It has been 30 days so his evaluation is completed. We must receive the reports from the specialists and then the court will determine the way forward.”
If diminished capacity of Oscar’s mind in those moments of the shooting are found, Judge Masipa will determine what happens next. If not, there are approximately 3 more witnesses scheduled by the defence, but as these are psychiatric witnesses, they may not appear if those witnesses do not agree with what the court reports will show on Monday. If trial resumes with testimony, the potential 3 witnesses will appear and testimony should wrap up by the end of next week.
Court watchers however will still have to wait some time before seeing this trial come to a close. Following the close of testimony a break in the trial will occur where both sides will be given time to prepare their closing arguments. If Oscar Pistorius is convicted of first degree murder he faces a minimum 25 year prison term.
Judge Masipa may consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide, which is not unlike the charge of manslaughter on United States law, which carries a 15 year prison term. With culpable homicide however in South Africa, prison terms are not always mandatory and at the discretion of the judge. It is entirely possible that Oscar Pistorius could be found guilty of culpable homicide and still be granted a non-custodial sentence.
But that is only for the charge of homicide, and not Oscar’s only battle that he faces. He is also facing multiple gun related charges that carry very stiff sentences in South Africa.
The BBC reports that he is being charged with unlawfully possessing ammunition, for not having a license for his handgun, and for not having the proper permit or dealer’s license that would legally allow him to possess bullets. Oscar has plead not guilty to these gun charges, stating he was holding onto the bullets for his father.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel finds it very peculiar that Oscar’s father has refused to make a statement to either confirm or deny that report according to the BBC. The sentence in South Africa for unlawful ammunition possession is a minimum of 15 years.
The Oscar Pistorius trial is scheduled to resume in the North Guateng High Court in South Africa on June 30.
What are your thoughts on the unanimous decision in the psychiatric evaluation? Do you think that will work for him, or against him? What do you think about these gun charges? Not much has been said about them to date, do you think Judge Masipa will give heavy weight to Oscar’s reportedly “trigger happy” personality?