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Trial adjourns after Oscar Pistorius breaks down on witness stand

South African track star Oscar Pistorius recalled for the court the night that he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home. (Reuters)


Oscar Pistorius broke down in sobs and wailed loudly Tuesday as he described how he shot his girlfriend in his South African home last year. The breakdown prompted the judge in the former Olympic athlete’s murder trial to adjourn the day’s proceedings early.

“She wasn’t breathing,” Pistorius testified, describing the moment when he said he realized he had shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a bathroom door.

Pistorius began crying while testifying about how, after firing four times through the door to a toilet, he broke through and found Steenkamp fatally shot, the Associated Press reported.

He said he screamed when he realized what he had done, according to CNN. “I was crying out to the Lord,” he told the court. “I was crying out for Reeva.”

Pistorius wailed loudly on the witness stand, his head in his hands, then went out a side door of the courtroom when the judge adjourned the trial.

Earlier, before a lunch break, Pistorius testified: “I heard the window opening in the bathroom. That is the moment that everything changed. I thought a burglar was gaining entry into my home.”

With that, Pistorius began telling his story Tuesday for the first time in court. He maintains that he thought an intruder was in the bathroom when he fired through the door. The prosecution says he knew it was Steenkamp and that he shot her after an argument.

“The first thing that ran through my mind was that I needed to protect Reeva and myself,” he  testified.

“As I entered the passageway leading to the bathroom, I felt fear and started screaming [at the intruders] to get out. I slowly made my way down the passage constantly aware that these people may come at me at any time,” he said.  “I could not see anything in the room…. I made my way along the bed and grabbed my firearm. I took off the canvas holster of my firearm.”

At that point, the trial recessed for lunch.

Earlier in the day, the former Olympian, a double-amputee, elaborated further on the troubled and chaotic relationship he shared with Reeva Steenkamp.

It was in January, weeks before Pistorius discharged his 9mm four times through his bathroom door and killed Steenkamp, when their relationship entered full bloom, he said. Both of then were coming out of “abusive” relationships. They had a trip planned for Brazil. They’d even begun shopping for items for a Johannesburg home that Pistorius had planned to buy.

“That’s when I would say our relationship really got going,” said the athlete, who once dazzled South Africa with his athletic exploits but today faces 25 years in prison. “I was very keen on Reeva,” he continued. “I think if anything I was maybe more into her than she was at times with me. And I let her just take her space. I was just besotted with her.”

But as quickly as it got going, it ended — in the most horrific fashion. On Valentine’s Day last year, Oscar Pistorius, the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics, claims he was awakened in the middle of the night. He asserts he didn’t have his prosthetic limbs on. He felt scared, vulnerable. He says he thought there was an intruder in the house and acted to protect himself.

Lies, prosecutors say. The state alleges that Pistorius, a man of combustible temperament who friends say is a gun nut, shot and killed his girlfriend after an argument inside his Pretoria mansion. Prosecutors have called several neighbors throughout the weeks of trial who have sworn they heard shouting that night before gunshots. If true, those recollections refute Pistorius’s claims that shouting had occurred only after he realized he’d killed Steenkamp — a key distinction.

Now, legal analysts contend Pistorius’s story hinges on how well his testimony withholds the scrutiny of cross-examination.

Several times on Tuesday, Pistorius’s voice failed him. The athlete, who has vomited twice during his trial and retched on Monday, again wept as the voluminous text messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius unfurled. His voice notably cracked as he read one of Steenkamp’s messages: “I am the girl who let go with u even when I was scared out of my mind to,” Steenkamp’s message said. “I’m the girl who fell in love with u and wanted to tell u this weekend.”

Other messages between the pair weren’t nearly as benign. “I’m scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me,” she wrote him. “You make me happy 90% of the time and I think we are amazing together but I am not some other b*tch you may know trying to kill your vibe.”

Pistorius explained: “We were in a bad day in our relationship…. I wasn’t kind to her like I should have been.” He said his strict diet and brutal training sessions had put him in a foul mood.

He said his workouts also precipitated another argument. He had wanted to go home and prepare for his workout, but she stuck around a party longer than he wanted, and they argued on the way to the car.

But his messages also show affection because, he said, “I care[d] about her.” He said she understood the demands of his training and diets better than most. “She really did get the way I needed to live my life,” he said.

Despite the passion Pistorius claims they shared, the pair never said they loved each other in additional text messages shared on Tuesday.

“I like you,” she once told him.

Eight seconds later, Pistorius, who claimed he once set out roses and chocolates for her at his house, responded: “I like you too!!!”

“I only have eyes for you,” she cooed.

To read the full messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius, click here.

Terrence McCoy covers poverty, inequality and social justice. He also writes about solutions to social problems.



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