Oscar Pistorius is overcome by emotion during his trial at
the high court in Pretoria. REUTERS/Themba Hadebe/Pool
His voice trembling with emotion, Oscar Pistorius took
the witness stand in his own defence, saying the Valentine's
Day shooting of his girlfriend last year had left him
sleepless, terrified and plagued by nightmares.
The disabled South African track star, on trial for murder,
apologised to the mother of model Reeva Steenkamp, saying he
had fired four times through a toilet door at his luxury
Pretoria home in the belief he was defending her from an
Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, was hit by at least
three rounds, one of which - to the head - killed her almost
instantly, the court has heard.
"I was simply trying to protect Reeva," Pistorius told the
Pretoria High Court at the start of his testimony. Reeva's
mother June Steenkamp, sitting stony-faced in the packed
public gallery, bowed her head.
The 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star, who faces life
in prison if convicted of murder, testified he had been on
anti-depressants and sleeping pills because of his disturbed
state of mind since the shooting.
"I'm scared to sleep. I have terrible nightmares about things
that happened that night," he said.
"I can smell blood. I wake up to being terrified."
He recounted one occasion when he woke up so scared in the
middle of the night that he crawled into a cupboard before
calling his sister, who came round to sit with him.
"I wake up in a complete state of terror to the point that I
would rather not sleep," he said, adding that his faith had
helped pull him through.
"There have been times when I've just been struggling a lot,"
he said, fighting to maintain his composure.
"My god is my god of refuge."
Earlier, during graphic forensic testimony from a defence
pathologist, Pistorius retched into a bucket in the dock.
OBSESSION WITH GUNS
The distraught, bespectacled figure was in stark contrast to
the gun-obsessed, fast-living hothead that prosecutors had
described in the first 16 days of the trial.
As well as murder, Pistorius is accused of firing a pistol
through the sun roof of a friend's car while on a public
road, and discharging a handgun under the table of a packed
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Now in its 17th day, the trial has gripped South Africa and
millions of fans around the world who have seen in Pistorius
a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.
The sprinter's lower legs were amputated as a baby but he
went on to achieve global fame as the "Blade Runner", after
the slender carbon fibre prosthetic limbs he wears on the
After winning gold medals at the Beijing and London
Paralympics, he stunned the world by reaching the semi-finals
of the 400 metres in the London Olympics against able-bodied
In testimony, Pistorius described his difficult early years
as a disabled child before his sporting prowess earned him
respect and recognition at school.
He also spoke of the pressures of fame, the toll travelling
to athletics meetings took on his family and personal life
and of his fears of life in crime-ridden South Africa.
"When we were growing up, we were exposed to crime - house
break-ins, family members being assaulted and hijacked," he
said. "Many members of my family have been victims of house
break-ins and violent crime."
His defence hinges on his assertion, made under oath at his
bail hearing, that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder
hiding in the toilet and opened fire.
However, witnesses living close to Pistorius' home in a gated
Pretoria community have testified to hearing the terrified
screams of a woman before and during a volley of shots in the
early hours of Feb. 14, 2014.
South Africa's firearms and self-defence laws make clear a
person may only shoot if there is a direct threat to
somebody's life - regulations Pistorius acknowledged in a
written gun-licence test presented by the prosecution.
Ashen-faced, Pistorius said he had not slept the night before
his testimony, leading Judge Thokozile Masipa to adjourn the
session early after little more than an hour of
"He does look exhausted," Masipa said. "He does sound
exhausted." As he stepped from the witness box, Pistorius
slumped into the outstretched arms of his sister Aimee.
The trial resumes at 0730 GMT on Tuesday.