Oscar offers tearful apology

By Drum Digital
07 April 2014

Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears as he apologised to Reeva Steenkamp's family for the suffering he caused them.

"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius broke down in tears on Monday as he apologised to his girlfriend's family for the suffering he caused when he shot her dead. In a quivering voice, the double amputee swore on the witness stand he was simply trying to protect Reeva Steenkamp from a suspected intruder when he fired four shots at her through a locked door on Valentine's Day last year.

"I wake up every morning and you [her family] are the first people I think of, the first people I pray for... I was simply trying to protect Reeva," Pistorius sobbed.

He promised that Steenkamp "felt loved" when she went to bed with him on the night she died, implicitly challenging the State's charge that he shot her with forethought after an argument.

Under questioning from his lawyer Barry Roux, SC, Pistorius told the High Court in Pretoria he had been taking a cocktail of anti-depressants and sleeping pills for the past year because he was haunted by nightmares and the smell of blood.

"I'm scared to sleep," Pistorius said, clutching a white tissue.

"For several reasons. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night. I smell blood and I wake up to be terrified. I hear a noise, I wake up in just... in a complete state of terror..."

He said the turmoil drove him to climb into a cupboard one night and call his sister Aimee to comfort him, and spoke of religion as a support.

"My God is a God of refuge," he said.

Roux led Pistorius through hours of testimony that amounted to a tour of his life -- from his early struggle to cope with crude prostheses, schoolyard bullying and losing his mother at 15, to the emotional impact of his disability and the demands of top level athletics, in which he became the first amputee to run in the Olympics.

He suggested that his security fears were partly inherited from his mother Sheila, who slept with a handgun under her pillow, partly the result of falling victim to crime frequently as an adult.

"She often got scared at night. We didn't live in the best of areas. There was a lot of crime. She would call the police, call us to her room and we would wait for the police to arrive."

He said he was burgled while competing abroad and added: "My father has been hijacked twice. My brother was in an attempted hijacking.. I've been followed home late at night. I've been shot at on the highway."

On several occasions, he rushed to the aid of roadside crime victims with his firearm, he said, but vowed that after Steenkamp's death he would "obviously" never touch a gun again.

Pistorius also explained the chafing wounds he often suffered on his legstumps and his emotional attachment to his prosthesis, without which he said he felt physically vulnerable and unstable.

"I can't stand still on my stumps... I don't have very good balance."

This is likely to be central argument in his case.

While the prosecution and the defence agree that Pistorius was on his stumps when he fired the shots, police witnesses have contradicted his claim that he was wearing his prostheses when he used a collector's cricket bat to bash open the door to reach Steenkamp.

Pistorius was on the stand for some two hours before Roux asked if court could adjourn early because his client had spent a sleepless night and was too exhausted to continue.

"I'm just very tired ... obviously the weight of this is extremely overbearing," the sprinter said before Judge Thokozile Masipa readily granted the adjournment.

Earlier on Monday, Pistorius had again retched audibly as retired pathologist Jan Botha testified for the defence and graphic images of Steenkamp's bullet wounds were shown in court.

Botha contradicted the testimony of the police and the pathologist who performed the post mortem on Steenkamp regarding the sequence and impact of her wounds.

He said he believed Pistorius shot Steenkamp first in the hip, the arm, then the head in about four seconds, and then she died probably without being able to call out.

The State contends that the second bullet missed Steenkamp altogether and has built much of its case on testimony from neighbours who said they heard a woman scream in terror from Pistorius's house just before Steenkamp died.

But under cross-examination Botha was forced to concede that Steenkamp may have screamed in fear and that he could not relate the holes in the door with the bullet wounds she suffered with any certainty.

"I never commented on the sequence of holes in the door and their correlation with the sequence of the wounds," Botha said.

"You can't divorce the two," said State prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Nel also told Botha he could not testify with any authority on the possible deviations in the abrasion marks around the bullet wounds if he failed to take into account that they had first travelled through a meranti door.

"Bring me any publication where somebody would support you that you can make any conclusion about the collar of abrasion after it has passed through a door," Nel said.

The pathologist reiterated that he was not a ballistics expert.

In a surprise step, Roux altered the defence's original claim that Pistorius used a so-called double-tap sequence when he fired the four shots, to say that his client had merely fired in rapid succession.

Nel responded: "I am totally surprised by what Mr Roux said about the double-tap ... It is the first I hear that it is not the defence's case that it was a double tap."

In his re-examination of Botha, the prosecutor said if this were the case, the witnesses' version of what happened in the moments before Steenkamp died were even less likely.

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