Oscar Pistorius was ordered by a judge on Wednesday to undergo psychiatric tests, meaning that the double-amputee athlete's murder trial will be interrupted, possibly for two months.
The decision by Judge Thokozile Masipa followed a request for a psychiatric evaluation by the chief prosecutor, Gerrie Nel. The prosecutor had said he had no option but to ask for it after an expert witness for the defense testified that Pistorius had an anxiety disorder since childhood that may have influenced his judgment when he fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Masipa said the court would reconvene on Tuesday to decide on details regarding Pistorius's period of observation. The world-famous runner stood with his hands clasped in front of him in court as the judge explained her decision.
He could be acquitted if it's found that he was not criminally responsible for Steenkamp's shooting because of a mental illness. A mental disorder could also be used by his defense for a lighter sentence if he is convicted of killing Steenkamp. Legal analysts say the prosecution is in a strong position in the trial.
Pistorius will likely now be evaluated by a panel of psychiatrists for a period of 30 days at a government facility, although Masipa said it would be preferable that he be an outpatient and return home each day after tests. The Olympian is free on bail after being charged with premeditated murder for Steenkamp's shooting death last year.
In a statement read on behalf of his family, Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius, said the ruling reaffirmed their confidence in the South African justice system.
"As a family, we are comforted by the thoroughness and detail of this judgment and Judge Masipa's commitment, using every avenue, to ensure a fair trial," Arnold Pistorius said.
In sending Pistorius, 27, for evaluation by experts, Masipa said the court was "ill-equipped" to properly assess the diagnosis by psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster. The judge said it was important to assess his state of mind because of questions raised by the prosecution that Pistorius might argue he was not criminally responsible for the shooting because of his anxiety disorder.
"The accused may not have raised the issue that he was not criminally responsible at the time of the incident in so many words, but evidence led on his behalf clearly raised the issue and cannot be ignored," the judge said.