Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius sobbed uncontrollably as he described finding his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, after he shot her in a darkened bathroom last year, forcing his trial to adjourn early for a second day.
“I flung the door open and I threw it open and I sat over Reeva and I cried,” Pistorius told the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. “I don’t know how long. I don’t know how long I was there for. She wasn’t breathing.” Judge Thokozile Masipa called a recess as the athlete wept convulsively.
Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. He testified that he thought a burglar was in his house moments before he fired four shots through a toilet cubicle door, hitting Steenkamp three times.
Defense lawyer, Barry Roux, said after a short break that the accused couldn’t continue in the state he was in. Family and friends tried to console him as the Paralympian left the court. June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, sat with her head bowed as Pistorius earlier detailed the events of the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013.
Pistorius said he thought he heard an intruder open the bathroom window in his Pretoria home.
“That is when everything changed,” he said. “The first thing that ran through my mind is that I needed to arm myself.”
Pistorius said he retrieved his pistol from the side of his bed and started screaming for who he thought were intruders to leave the house and for Steenkamp to call the police. When he heard the toilet door close, he believed a burglar was inside.
He screamed for help from his balcony after the shooting before returning to the toilet cubicle, Pistorius said.
Masipa will give a final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($96,000) bail since February last year.
In earlier testimony, Pistorius denied that he fired a pistol through a car’s sunroof as two witnesses, including a former girlfriend, have testified, and blamed a friend for handing him a loaded gun that went off in a restaurant.
Roux sought to portray Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has cited phone messages between the two to portray Steenkamp as being afraid of the athlete.
“Through January our relationship really got going,” Pistorius said. “We both came out of difficult relationships before. I was very keen on Reeva and I think if anything I was a bit more than she was at times.”
Roux went through WhatsApp messages introduced by the prosecution last month detailing an exchange between Pistorius and Steenkamp to show that her complaints of being scared of him at times were part of a brief argument.
Yesterday, Pistorius told the court he has nightmares when he can “smell the blood” and wakes up “in a complete state of terror.” He said he’s taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication. The runner started his testimony by apologizing to Steenkamp’s family and friends for shooting her.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought of your family,” he said. “I was simply trying to protect Reeva.”
Roux tried to show that Pistorius is a religious person who took in an injured dog and worked with a charity for disabled people. Roux also questioned him at length about his sports career and his fear of crime.
The trial, which is being broadcast live on radio and TV, started on March 3. Only audio broadcast of Pistorius’s testimony is allowed.
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.
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 charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.