Thursday 23 October 2014

Bullied, depressed and paranoid of attack: Pistorius sets out the case for his defence

Olympian gives evidence for the first time and tells court: 'I can smell blood. I wake up terrified'

Published 07/04/2014 | 15:36

OSCAR Pistorius’s defence sought to paint a picture of a man whose life has been marked by tragedy and fear as the athlete took to the stand at his murder trial on Monday.

A tearful, stuttering and seemingly grief-stricken Pistorius began his testimony by apologising to the Steenkamp family.

“I will start my evidence by tendering an apology,” he said. “I would like to apologise to Mr and Mrs Steenkamp, her family and friends.”

“I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness I have caused you and your family.

"You're the first people I think of when I wake up. You're the first people I pray for. I was trying to protect Reeva. When she went to bed that night, she felt loved.

“I’ve tried to put my pen to paper many times to write to you but no words would ever suffice.”

At the beginning of the sixth week of the trial at the North Gauteng High Court, Pistorius also revealed that he has been taking anti-depressants since the accident happened, and other medication to help him sleep at night.

"I'm scared to sleep,” he said tearfully. “I have terrible nightmares about what happened that night. I can smell blood. I wake up terrified."

Formerly a firearm enthusiast, Pistorius said he “never wants to be a near a firearm again”, and told the court of one occasion when he woke in a panic in the middle of the night, and hid in a cupboard, and telephoned his sister who came round to comfort him.

"I climbed into a cupboard and I phoned my sister to come and sit by me, which she did for a while," he said. "I'm just in a complete state of terror. I fall asleep and wake up like that."

He continued by talking through his childhood, telling a story of how his mother, who died when he was 15, was called to his school after a fight with another boy who had been bullying him and who had ripped his shirt.

“My mother said ‘It’s right that you should stand up for what you believe.’ She said she won’t be back. And she gave the shirt to the [other boy’s] mother, and said to bring it back when it was mended.”

He told the court his mother kept a gun under her pillow and the family had often been exposed to crime growing up in South Africa. He witnessed numerous break-ins, was attacked at a party and claimed to have been followed by a car into his gated community and shot on the highway.

"My mother had a lot of security concerns. We grew up in a family where my father wasn't around much so my mother had a pistol,” he told the court.

"She would often get scared at night so she would call the police – we didn't stay in the best of suburbs. She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow in a padded leather type of bag."

He also spoke about a boat crash in 2009, where he suffered serious facial injuries, and left him with an intense fear of losing his life. He told the court he became more vigilant about personal safety as a result of the accident. Pistorius denied he had been drinking when the boat crashed.

His voice broke when he spoke about his faith and his religious upbringing. His mother went to Church every week and sang in the choir. He questioned his faith following her death but later turned to the Lord and had always wanted a Christian partner.

He told the court meeting Ms Steenkamp was a "blessing".

Defence counsel Barry Roux secured an early adjournment arguing Pistorius was distressed and exhausted. Pistorius told the court he was "tired" and there was a lot of his mind.

When asked by Mr Roux whether he'd slept the previous night, Pistorius replied: "No, sir."

Earlier, the athlete retched and vomited in court after forensic pathologist Jan Botha described the wounds sustained by Ms Steenkamp the night she was shot through a locked toilet door.

Prof Botha told the court it is "highly unlikely" that she would have been able to react to the first shot that hit her in the hip if they "were fired in a rapid sequence".

"If the shots were fired in rapid sequence, and these four shots could have easily been fired in four seconds, I think it's highly unlikely that she would have called out," he added.

His testimony contradicts the prosecution's claim that Ms Steenkamp screamed as she was shot and the athlete must have known he was firing at her.

The defence no longer argues the athlete fired two “double tap” shots, claiming he fired a rapid succession of bullets instead.

Prof Botha also told the court that it would be difficult to determine the timeframe between Ms Steenkamp's last meal and her death as multiple many factors come to play, including the volume of food consumed and its caloric content, casting doubt on the prosecution's claim that she ate an hour to two hours before her death.

Pistorius has claimed the couple were in his bedroom by 10pm on 13 February 2013, and any indication that they were awake much later could undermine the Olympian's account of the sequence of events.

Pistorius is likely to be in the witness stand for a week or more, when he will be tested on his version of events of how his girlfriend came to be shot and killed in his house in Pretoria in the early hours of Valentine’s day last year.

So far, state prosecutors have painted a picture of a gun-loving, possessive and jealous boyfriend who often snapped at Ms Steenkamp and accused her of flirting with other men.

In a text message sent on 27 January, Ms Steenkamp wrote: "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me". The model said she felt "picked on" and "attacked" by the one person she deserved protection from - referring to the athlete.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Steenkamp, claiming he shot the model by mistake thinking she was an intruder in his home. Prosecutors argue he intentionally shot and killed the 29-year old model following a domestic dispute.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa and Pistorius's fate will ultimately be decided by Judge Masipa, assisted by two assessors.

The case continues.

Independent News Service

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