In Pretoria, South Africa, Oscar Pistorius took the witness stand for the first time on Monday. He testified that he was trying to protect the girlfriend he killed. He stated he became so tormented by the memories of the fatal shooting that he has continuously suffered from painful panic attacks.
Pistorius offered an apology to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, who died from multiple wounds after the double-amputee runner shot her through a closed toilet door last year in his home. He said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. Prosecutors allege he killed her after an argument.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family,” the athlete said at the murder trial as Steenkamp’s mother, June, looked impassively at him in the courtroom. “I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved,” Pistorius said.
Pistorius’ display of anguish and remorse was a marked departure from the testimony of some prosecution witnesses whose accounts painted a picture of the runner as a hothead with a jealous streak, an inflated sense of entitlement and an obsession with guns in the months before he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model.
He has yet to be cross-examined about the shooting in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, and that testimony is likely to be the centerpiece of a trial being broadcast on television and followed around the world. Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted. Some analysts think the judge, who will decide the case, will consider a lesser charge such as homicide, which could still send him to prison for years.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux, who had aggressively challenged prosecution witnesses since the trial began March 3, led Pistorius gently through events in a life that was held up, in the runner’s heyday, as an inspiring tale. Pistorius was born without fibula bones because of a congenital defect, and his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old. He ran on carbon-fiber blades and is a multiple Paralympic medalist. He also competed at the London Olympics but didn’t win a medal.
Pistorius described the positive role of his mother, Sheila, and his grief when she died when Pistorius was a teenager. He spoke about the sacrifices he had made for his athletic achievements, his work with charity and how religion was important to him.
Pistorius said he has been taking antidepressant medication since the week after he killed Steenkamp and has trouble sleeping. He described one night when he went to hide in a closet after waking up in “a panic.”
Pistorius will return Tuesday to continue testifying after the judge granted an early adjournment because she said Pistorius looked “exhausted.” Pistorius said he had not slept the night before, “I’m just very tired at the moment …. I think it’s a lot of things going through my mind,” he said. “The weight of this is extremely overbearing.”
This story has been complied with information from The Associated Press.