At 3:19 the morning of Feb. 14, 2013, a phone rang inside a Pretoria home. A broad and balding man named Johan Stander picked up the line. It was Oscar. He was panicked. “‘Please, please, please come to my house,’” Stander recalls Oscar Pistorius telling him. “‘I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder. Please, please come quick.’”
Stander, who once fed Pistorius’s dogs while the South African athlete was overseas, got up to leave. His daughter, who was staying with him, later testified her “heart was pounding fast.” She had heard someone screaming, “‘Help! Help!’” So together, the father and daughter went to Pistorius’s house, and entered the darkened mansion.
He saw Pistorius coming down the steps, holding model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. “I could see she had a head wound,” he testified Monday morning, the first day of testimony following a two-week hiatus in the trial of Oscar Pistorius. The athlete was crying, Stander said. “He was really crying; he was in pain. He asked us to please assist him and put Reeva in the car and take her to the hospital.”
But it was much too late for that. Reeva Steenkamp would soon be dead. And Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to ever compete in the Olympics and an object of national adoration, would soon face accusations he had murdered her. Since, his fall from the height of celebrity to the verge of imprisonment has been absolute.
Oscar Pistorius grew up rich and handsome, less defined by his disability than his will to overcome it. By 2012, the year he competed in the Olympics, he was known internationally as the Blade Runner and donned numerous magazine covers.
But now, emerging from the trial’s hiatus, he’s confronted by a set of challenges more daunting than any he has faced in his career. Pistorius claims he and his girlfriend had gone to bed the night of her killing very much in love. Then he’d awoken that night in a panic. He claims he had thought an intruder had broken into the house. Feeling vulnerable without his prosthetics, he grabbed his 9mm. Then, shouting, he says he unloaded four bullets into the door and unwittingly killed Steenkamp.
This story has been assailed from all sides. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel — known as the “bulldog” — challenged every nuance of the it, casting considerable doubt not only on Pistorius’s claims, but on his character. He called Pistorius’s story incredible. He called Pistorius a liar. Pistorius wept on the stand in response, his voice at times taking on a keening falsetto.
At one point, Nel scrutinized Pistorius’s claim that Steenkamp hadn’t yelled before he shot her — though several neighbors have testified they heard a woman screaming before gunshots. “She’s awake,” the prosecutor said. “She’s in the toilet. You’re shouting. You’re screaming. You’re three meters from her. She would have responded. She would not have been quiet, Mr. Pistorius.”
“A woman did not scream at any point,” Pistorius said. He added: “My lady, I wish she had let me know she was there.”
Stander said Pistorius had conveyed wrenching remorse the night of the shooting. Watching him “is not something I would like to experience again,” Stander told the court. “The expression on his face, the expression of sorrow, of pain. He’s crying. He’s praying. He’s asking God to help him. He was torn apart, broken, desperate. His commitment to save the young lady’s life. He begged her to stay with him, begged God to keep her alive. I saw the truth there that morning. I saw it. I felt it.”
Stander’s daughter, who also testified Monday morning, agreed with her father. Pistorius was “begging” her to help put Steenkamp in a car. She raced upstairs to the linen closet to get fresh towels and saw the bathroom, where Pistorius had shot and killed his girlfriend. “I just saw blood everywhere,” she said.
Downstairs, she said, Pistorius was praying to God. He was “begging and pleading with Reeva to please stay with him.”
“Just stay with me my love,” she says he said. “Stay with me.”
For the last story in Morning Mix on the Pistorius trial, click here.