Oscar Pistorius judge not swayed by court theatrics

Oscar Pistorius leaves North Gauteng High Court after the judge ordered that he should undergo mental evaluation on May 14, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Image copyright Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius appeared relaxed in court as the judge told him to report next Monday morning to Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital - a grand, old, red-brick building on the edge of Pretoria.

He'll be treated as an outpatient, spending each weekday being evaluated by three experts - one from the defence, and two appointed by the state - before returning to court on 30 June.

The purpose is to confirm if the athlete is suffering from a Generalised Anxiety Disorder - as earlier diagnosed by a defence expert - and to what extent that could have affected his behaviour the night he shot Reeva Steenkamp.

It's another twist - and another big delay - in a trial that has not lacked for drama these past 30-something days.

Sitting in court behind the athlete, for his relatives and those of Ms Steenkamp, it's been very hard not to get caught up in the sheer theatricality of the process - the tears, the anger, the confrontations, the elusive facts at the heart of the case.

And let's not forget the live television broadcast.

At stake is the court's understanding of Mr Pistorius' state of mind at the moment he pulled the trigger.

The defence says the "anxiety disorder" in no way affects the athlete's ability to distinguish right from wrong, but does help to explain his sense of vulnerability and his instinct to confront a perceived threat rather than to flee.

The prosecution - either seeking greater clarity, or trying to nip a new defence tactic in the bud - insists that, since the law does not spell out the difference between a mental "disorder" and "illness," more tests are appropriate.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prosecutor Gerrie Nel (l) and defence lawyer Barry Roux have been battling it out since early March
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The trial has many elements which have captivated the public including a celebrity killer and a beautiful victim

Last week Barry Roux and Gerrie Nel were battling it out - defence vs prosecution - like two grand Shakespearean actors.

There was bluster and indignation; disappointment and quiet cunning. A touch of embittered Malvolio, or wronged Othello from Roux? And what to make of Nel - a deferential Iago at times? Or an ingenious Portia?

Or maybe we should stick with the small screen… How about Rumpole vs Denny Crane?

It is all riveting stuff. A more accurate word, dare we admit it, might be entertaining.

But last week Judge Thokosile Masipa helpfully reminded us all, not for the first time, that the emotions and the posturing in court are almost entirely beside the point. There is no jury to sway here. No foreman to impress. There is only the judge herself.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Judge Thokosile Masipa is sifting the facts from the theatrics

Sometimes you can see a twinkle in her eye, or a flash of irritation, as Mr Nel and Mr Roux launch into a new pas-de-deux.

But as Judge Masipa made clear last Thursday in her sober ruling on the prosecution's request for a psychiatric referral, it is not the antics of the lawyers that really interest her - only the law, the court transcript, and each side's written arguments based on the evidence they've managed to elicit from each witness.

Mr Pistorius's family - who make little secret of their visceral dislike of the prosecution's tactics - seemed themselves to take a step back from the drama, issuing a brief statement which amounted to a relieved endorsement of the judge's good sense.

And so yes, there will be a long delay, and no doubt more abrasive cross-examination of defence witnesses thereafter. But as distracting as the tears and tactics in court can be, in the end it will boil down to what's left on paper - time lines, analysis, extrapolations, and diagnoses.

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  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window


    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting


    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom


    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door


    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls


    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.