'I'd rather not sleep – I wake up each day to smell Reeva's blood'
Weeping, stammering Pistorius takes the stand at his murder trial
Published 08/04/2014 | 02:30
OSCAR Pistorius fears going to sleep because he has nightmares and wakes to smell the blood of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he shot dead, he told a court yesterday .
The 27-year-old Paralympic athlete, who is accused of murdering the model, wept and stammered as he took to the witness box for the climax of his trial in Pretoria high court.
He told how he took medication to cope with the nightmares. After one dream, he climbed into a cupboard and phoned his younger sister to comfort him, he told Judge Thokozile Masipa. Pistorius also turned to Ms Steenkamp's mother June in the public gallery and apologised for the first time for the "pain and emptiness" he had left them with.
Mrs Steenkamp sat stoney-faced as he told her in a high tremulous voice that her family was the "first thing" he thought about and prayed for each morning.
He said he wanted her to know that her daughter "felt loved" before she died at his hands in the early hours of St Valentine's Day last year.
The opening of his evidence came after 15 days of prosecution evidence in which neighbours told how they heard an argument and a woman screaming before the fatal shots were fired. Pistorius maintains that he shot four times through a locked lavatory door at his home outside Pretoria, thinking an intruder was inside.
After taking the oath, Pistorius, prompted by his barrister Barry Roux, made an emotional address to the Steenkamps.
"There hasn't been a moment since this tragedy that I haven't thought about your family," he said.
"I wake up and you're the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can't imagine the pain and sorrow, the emptiness that I've caused you."
After asking the Steenkamp family for forgiveness, Pistorius claimed that he was simply "trying to protect Reeva".
However, Mrs Steenkamp looked furious as he described his trouble sleeping.
"I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night where I wake up and I can smell the blood," he said.
"If I hear a noise, I wake up just in a complete state of terror to a point that I'd rather not sleep than fall asleep and wake up like that."
Pistorius described how he was born without leg bones below the knee and had both limbs amputated as an infant.
With the help of his "loving and caring" mother, he learned to see himself as equal to his peers and grew to love sport. His parents separated when he was six, he said, and he rarely saw his father. His mother died of an adverse reaction to medication when he was 15. He described his international athletics career as a "blessing" but said it made it hard for him to maintain relationships with friends and family.
He said that his family were conscious about crime. They lived in a rough suburb and were broken into several times.
"My mother had a lot of security concerns," he said. "She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow. She would often get scared at night and call the police."
He said he had been broken into and followed home several times, and was once shot at on the motorway. His family and friends had suffered carjackings, robberies and violence, he added.
Pistorius's composure cra- cked again as he talked about buying a house in Johannesburg to live with Ms Steenkamp.
He said religion had got him through the past year and his girlfriend had shared his belief. "Reeva was a very strong Christian," he said.
"She would pray for me every night."
"Did you sleep last night?" Barry Roux asked him. Pistorius shook his head, saying: "The weight of this is extremely overbearing. It's a lot to think about."
Judge Masipa agreed to an early adjournment, telling Mr Roux: "He looks exhausted. He sounds exhausted."
The case continues. (©Daily Telegraph, London)