Oscar Pistorius to undergo psychiatric evaluation, trial delayed

Oscar Pistorius
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Oscar Pistorius will undergo psychiatric evaluation, delaying his murder trial, Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled Wednesday.

Masipa granted an application from the prosecution that Pistorius be placed under mental observation, citing South African law after a forensic psychiatrist testifed that he had an anxiety disorder. The disorder may have played a role in his fatal shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year and could affect the judge’s verdict.

“I’m persuaded that the requirement of a reasonable possibility has been met,” said Masipa, who did not outline a specific length for the evaluation. “A referral inevitably means more delays in finalizing this matter, but this is not about anyone’s convenience but rather about whether justice has been served.”

Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, said he thought an intruder was locked inside his bathroom when he shot four times through a locked door, hitting and killing Steenkamp inside on Valentine’s Day 2013. He has not claimed he was mentally incapacitated at the time.

He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Merryll Vorster testified Monday that Pistorius had generalized anxiety disorder, based off two interviews with him earlier this month.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel cited Section 78 of South Africa’s Criminal Procedure Act in applying for Pistorius to undergo psychiatric evaluation. The law states:

(1) A person who commits an act or makes an omission which constitutes an
offence and who at the time of such commission or omission suffers from a mental
illness or mental defect which makes him or her incapable-
(a) of appreciating the wrongfulness of his or her act or omission; or
(b) of acting in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his
or her act or omission,
shall not be criminally responsible for such act or omission.

The defense argued that Pistorius’ general anxiety disorder is not a mental illness applicable in the cited law, though it’s clear from the law he could be acquitted if found not criminally responsible for shooting Steenkamp due to mental illness.

“The effect of the evidence is that a doubt has been created that the accused [Pistorius] may possibly have another defense relating to his criminal responsibility,” Masipa said. “There is also a possibility that there may be diminished criminal responsibility.”

Masipa called her ruling an “integral part of a fair trial” and said the specific order will be handed down Tuesday.

Pistorius stood with his hands clasped, wavering slightly, as Masipa spoke for 15 minutes before issuing her ruling.

Masipa said it would be preferable for Pistorius to be an outpatient as he undergoes the psychiatric evaluation.

“The aim of referral is not to punish the accused twice,” she said.

The trial that began March 3 and has taken multiple breaks is now 32 days old.

Here’s NBC News’ full coverage of the trial.

Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

LG Snowboard-Cross FIS World Cup
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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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