Oscar Pistorius' murder trial began a new phase Monday when the Olympic athlete arrived at a state psychiatric hospital for a monthlong evaluation whose terms have been described by some as favorable to the double-amputee runner.
Pistorius, who killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his home last year, sat in the passenger seat of a black sedan and spoke on a cellphone as he arrived behind a police van at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, the South African capital.
The judge who will deliver a verdict in the case asked the hospital to determine if Pistorius had a mental disorder at the time of the shooting, which could affect whether he should be held criminally responsible.
Pistorius must arrive by 9 a.m. and can leave by 4 p.m. each weekday, and has weekends off under an order from Judge Thokozile Masipa. Pistorius, who is free on bail, has been staying at the upscale Pretoria home of his uncle.
Pistorius' outpatient status troubles some experts who say 24-hour observation is common in state psychiatric facilities. In the evenings, nursing staff can get additional insights into a patient's mental state that complement formal questioning and other tests during the day, say the experts.
''There is a benefit'' to the after-hours observation, said Lee-Ann Hartman, a clinical psychologist who has worked in state psychiatric facilities.
Masipa's instruction came after a psychiatrist testified that Pistorius, who has said he feels particularly vulnerable because of his disability and long-held worry about crime, had an anxiety disorder that could have contributed to his shooting of Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013. The judge was responding to a prosecution request for an independent inquiry, based on concern the defense would argue Pistorius was not guilty because of mental illness.
Prosecutors allege Pistorius killed Steenkamp intentionally after a late-night fight, but the athlete says he mistook his girlfriend for a dangerous intruder hiding in a toilet cubicle when he shot her multiple times through the door.
There is a long waiting list for observation cases at state psychiatric hospitals and Pistorius' assessment will be faster because he does not need a hospital bed, said Gerhard Grundling, chair of the Clinical Psychology Forum, a South African group. He said the observation will likely include blood tests and possible brain scans and that more specialists, including a neurologist, can get involved as needed.
Additionally, in such observations, social workers gather ''collateral information'' in interviews with friends, family