Finally, a month since his murder trial began, Oscar Pistorius took the witness stand in his murder trial.
The Pistorius who spoke Monday in a Pretoria, South Africa, courtroom was a far cry from the double-amputee Blade Runner whose athletic triumphs made him a national hero in South Africa. He spoke haltingly, emotionally of the Valentine’s Day 2013 night in which he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp to death in the trial, in which a judge will determine whether he acted with premeditation or whether, as he contends, he mistook her for an intruder. He weakened as the testimony went on, with the judge adjourning early because of his exhaustion.
The defense opened its case with testimony from pathologist Jan Botha, then Pistorius stepped to the stand. Here are five takeaways from testimony in which the defense sought to portray the athlete was a religious man whose fears were reasonable as he coped with his disability and life as a celebrity in South Africa:
Pistorius opened with an apology to Steenkamp’s parents. Although the judge allowed photos and video to be taken, witnesses have the right to not be shown and Pistorius, like many witnesses in South Africa’s version of the O.J. Simpson trial, exercised that right. His voice quavered and he struggled with his emotions, sounding either like a broken man or one who was well-coached.
“I’d like to apologize and say that there’s not a moment and there hasn’t been a moment since, since this tragedy happened, that I haven’t thought about your family,” he told the Steenkamps. “I wake up every morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I’ve caused you and your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved. I’ve tried to put my words on paper many, many times to write to you, but no words would ever suffice.”
Pistorius spoke at length about his physical condition. His lifelong disability and his life since the Steenkamp shooting were detailed. He described his struggles with balance issues when he is not wearing his prosthetic blades and said he has had issues with blood clots when he flies. Since shooting Steenkamp, he has been taking antidepressants and sleeping pills, he said. “I’m scared to sleep for several reasons. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night,” he said. ” … I wake up and smell blood and I wake up to being terrified. I wake up in a complete state of terror, to a point that I’d rather not sleep than wake up like that.”
A boating accident and crime in South Africa led him to become more fearful and vigilant about his safety. “Everybody in South Africa has been exposed to crime at some point, I think,” he said. Pistorius added that people have followed him in his car and said he “has been shot at on the highway.”
#Pistorius: One of my father’s homes was ransacked. One of the burglars had cut his hand and wiped blood on the wall.— David Smith (@SmithInAfrica) April 7, 2014
#Pistorius: Three years later I got an American pitbull. ″I selected them because I thought they would make the best watchdogs.”— David Smith (@SmithInAfrica) April 7, 2014
Only the presiding judge (there is no trial by jury in South Africa), her assistants and the the courtroom spectators are shown during the testimony. As it progressed, Pistorius’s voice became stronger, then he wavered again as he talked about his faith. “My God is a god of refuge,” he said.
#Pistorius, emotional: Reeva was a ″blessing” and a ″strong Christian” who ″prayed for me at night”.— David Smith (@SmithInAfrica) April 7, 2014
Was Pistorius a gun-wielding hothead? He and his defense team took great pains to put forth a picture of the athlete as a man comfortable with firearms but used them responsibly. His mother, who died when he was a teen, slept with a gun under her pillow, he said.
Pistorius’s physical and emotional state are issues. Defense attorney Barry Roux asked for an early adjournment and, over prosecutorial objection, Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed. “He does look exhausted,” she said. “He does sound exhausted.” And this is after questioning from a lawyer who is on his side. How will Pistorius, who vomited and sobbed as the prosecution presented its case, hold up when the prosecutor laces into him?