ATHLETE Oscar Pistorius took to the stand in his murder trial yesterday and apologised to the family of the girlfriend he shot dead, before revealing he sometimes wakes from nightmares to the “smell of blood”.
The sportsman also described how he takes antidepressants and has been left traumatised by his actions.
Pistorius’ voice quavered so much and was so low at the start of his testimony that judge Thokozile Masipa asked him to speak up as, standing and addressing a packed courtroom, he talked of his remorse for having killed Reeva Steenkamp on 14 February last year.
The 27-year-old said he mistook her for an intruder when he fired four times through a locked toilet stall door in his home. Prosecutors said the double-amputee Olympian shot his lover as she screamed in terror after they had an argument.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family,” Pistorius said as Steenkamp’s mother, June, looked straight at him in the courtroom, stone-faced.
“I wake up every morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for … I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved,” Pistorius said after asking for permission to make the apology at the start of his testimony.
Prosecutors allege Pistorius murdered the 29-year-old model with intent by shooting her in the head, arm and hip after an argument and have sought to paint him as a hothead with an inflated sense of entitlement and an obsession with firearms.
Defence lawyer Barry Roux led Pistorius through an account of his life, with Pistorius describing some of the hardships he faced after having his lower legs amputated as a baby, the positive role of his mother, Sheila, and his grief when she died when Pistorius was a teenager. He also spoke about the sacrifices he had made for his athletics achievements, his work with charity and how religion was important to him.
The account contrasted with that of prosecutors who, through witness testimony, have painted a dramatically different picture of Pistorius, a man they say was often angry, who cheated on a former girlfriend and who shot a gun out of a moving car in 2012 after an altercation with police and then laughed about it.
Pistorius said he has been taking 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”.
“I climbed into a cupboard and I phoned my sister to come and sit by me, which she did for a while,” Pistorius said.
His testimony on day 17 of his trial in Pretoria came on the same day his defence opened its case. Legal experts said it was crucial to his case he testify to explain why he shot Steenkamp.
His voice broke again and he struggled to speak when he described how Steenkamp was “a blessing” in his life.
Apart from his emotional apology at the start, Pistorius did not directly address the killing of Steenkamp.
“I’m just very tired at the moment … I think it’s a lot of things going through my mind,” Pistorius said. “The weight of this is extremely overbearing.”
He described how his family had “security concerns” when he was young and his mother slept with a gun under a pillow on her bed.
Pistorius said his family had been targeted by criminals over the years, citing incidents of house break-ins and carjackings, and said he had sometimes been followed by unidentified people while driving home.
He was also asked by Mr Roux to talk about a 2009 boat crash when he suffered serious facial injuries. He said the accident had a “massive impact,” and it made him become fearful, withdrawn, more vigilant about personal safety and more focused on his running.
Pistorius is due to continue giving evidence today.