When Oscar Pistorius finally pried open his bathroom door just past 3 a.m. last year on Valentine’s Day, he saw a room of red splashed against white. His model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was breathing her last. One of her arms had been shattered by a bullet. He crouched beside the toilet and wept.
In Pistorius’s most detailed account of the chaotic moments following Steenkamp’s killing, the athlete claimed Wednesday morning that he was consumed by emotion and dismay. “I sat there crying for some time…. I could feel the blood was running down on me,” he said, claiming he had tried to extricate her from the bathroom. “I heard her breathing so I put her weight on top of me and I swiveled around.”
But Pistorius, the first double-amputee to ever compete in the Olympics, says he was without his prosthetic legs. He couldn’t pick up Steenkamp. He didn’t know what to do, he said. He tried his girlfriend’s phone, but its password restricted him. “I was trying to pick Reeva up, but I couldn’t,” the Olympian said, crying. “I was scared that I’d hurt her more so I put her arm onto her body.”
He got his phone and called a security service. “I could see that she was breathing, struggling to breath,” he said. “I remember [the operator] telling me that I must get Reeva to the hospital. That I mustn’t wait for him.”
It was much too late for that, however. Moments later, Steenkamp was dead. And suspicion immediately fell on Pistorius, who once represented man’s capacity to overcome adversity and today faces 25 years in prison if convicted of murdering Steenkamp.
His sudden transformation from handsome national hero to murder suspect has captured both his country’s and the globe’s attention. Every day, dozens of reporters and photographers swarm his trial. By the minute, Twitter pulses with the hashtag #Pistorius. Images of Pistorius weeping, retching, writhing and fretting during the trial have materialized in newspapers from South Africa to Britain.
The basics of the case remain unchanged. Pistorius claims that he and his girlfriend had gone to bed that mid-February night and that he awoke hours later, frightened and without his prosthetic legs. He asserts he heard an intruder and grabbed his 9mm. Then he discharged four bullets into his bathroom, killing Steenkamp in what he claims was a horrific mistake.
Prosecutors say it was significantly darker than that. The state alleges that Pistorius, a gun aficionado with a combustible temperament, killed her after one of the many arguments the pair had over their brief, yet intense, relationship. On Tuesday, additional text messages emerged that conveyed a tender and ebullient courtship.
The messages, produced by the defense, offered a sharp contrast to what happened next. “I was crying out to the Lord,” he told the court he said when he found his girlfriend shot. “I was crying out for Reeva.”
After the arrival of police, one of whom testified he immediately discerned something murderous in Pistorius, the athlete felt ill. He couldn’t sit. Neither could he stand. Droves of people were rushing in and out of his Pretoria mansion. He looked at his hands. They were covered in blood. “The smell of the blood was making me throw up,” Pistorius testified, according to London’s Mirror newspaper.
Steenkamp’s family glowered while listening to Pistorius.
June Steenkamp and Reeva’s family in court this morning. pic.twitter.com/Yv4Vsb8qYH
— Emily Smith (@EmilySmithCNN) April 9, 2014
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel hammered Pistorius: “You will not hide things from the court…. You killed Miss Steenkamp.”
Then Nel asked Pistorius a strange question: “What is a zombie stopper?”
Pistorius said he didn’t know.
Nel played a YouTube video for the court showing Pistorius shooting a gun and exploding a watermelon. A man who sounds like Pistorius says in the background, “It’s a lot softer than brain, but [expletive], it’s like a zombie stopper.”
“You saw how the bullet made the watermelon explode,” Nel said, as a graphic picture of Steenkamp’s head flashed on the court’s screen. “You know that the same thing happened to Reeva’s head.”