Oscar Pistorius struggled to hold back tears as he apologized to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp’s family and friends for shooting her at his home on Valentine’s Day last year.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought of this family,” Pistorius said today as he stood and looked at the Steenkamp family at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. “I was simply trying to protect Reeva.”
Pistorius, the defense’s second witness, said he wakes up with nightmares when he can “smell the blood” and “in a complete state of terror.” He is taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication and has hired a security guard to stand outside the door of his room at night, Pistorius said.
Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend on Feb. 14 last year, and three gun-related charges. He says he thought she was an intruder when he shot her through a locked toilet cubicle door in his bathroom. Judge Thokozile Masipa will give a final judgment, with help from two assessors, because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.
The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($95,000) bail since February last year. Masipa agreed to a defense request for an early adjournment after his lawyer argued that Pistorius, trying to contain his emotions, was tired.
The athlete’s sister, Aimee, walked over to the stand to help her brother put his overcoat on. Pistorius crouched to the floor as family members tried to block the view of reporters in the wood-paneled court room.
Reeva Steenkamp’s mother, June, sat in the first row of public benches.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux asked Pistorius about his childhood and how he became interested in sports. His mother Sheila kept a pistol under her pillow, he said.
“We didn’t live in the best of areas,” Pistorius said, later detailing instances when family members were attacked and their houses burglarized. “There was a lot of crime.”
His father was carjacked twice and Pistorius said he was followed when driving his car. He was beaten up after helping a woman who was assaulted, suffering a swollen eye and stitches on his head, Pistorius said.
After his mother died when he was 15, Pistorius said he and his brother and sister would stay with relatives and his father.
Following a boating accident in 2009, “I became a bit fearful, quite withdrawn,” he said.
Earlier, prosecutor Gerrie Nel challenged the evidence of the first defense witness, forensics expert Jan Botha, about his testimony that Steenkamp probably didn’t scream when she was shot. Under cross-examination, Botha said he couldn’t be sure on the sequence of four shots that killed Steenkamp.
Assuming Pistorius fired the shots at Steenkamp in four or five seconds, she wouldn’t have had time to yell. He said he couldn’t exclude the possibility that she did.
“If the shots were fired in rapid succession, I think it’s highly unlikely that she could have been able to call out,” Botha said under examination from Roux. “Before she could react the remaining bullets would have struck her.”
Botha later said that Steenkamp may have screamed.
Nel pointed to evidence presented earlier and that both the prosecution and the defense have accepted that the second bullet missed Steenkamp.
Neighbors of Pistorius in the Silver Woods Country Estate gated community where he lived in Pretoria have testified that they heard a woman’s screams and gunshots shortly after 3 a.m. local time. Roux argued that the screams were made by Pistorius when he realized who he had shot.
Steenkamp was standing when the first hollow-point bullet broke her hip bone, then she fell on top of a magazine rack in the toilet, police ballistics expert Chris Mangena said in testimony on March 19. She was struck by two more bullets from Pistorius’s pistol, in the arm and the head, he said.
Mangena said that since the first bullet caused Steenkamp to fall from a standing position, it was probable that there was a delay after the initial shot before the final three were fired. The position of her arms showed Steenkamp may have been trying to shield herself after the first shot was fired, he said.
The state rested its case on March 25 after Nel sought to portray Pistorius as obsessed and reckless with weapons and having a quick temper. Witnesses testified how he shot through the sunroof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant.
Roux today tried to show that the athlete is a religious person who rescued an injured dog and started a charity for disabled people.
The athlete ordered six firearms, including a Smith & Wesson (SWHC) 500 revolver and a semi-automatic rifle, Sean Rens, a firearms trainer, told the trial on March 17. The order was canceled about a month after he shot Steenkamp, Rens said.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE), Luxottica Group SpA (LUX)’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Burkhardt in Pretoria at firstname.lastname@example.org