Oscar Pistorius wails with anguish in dock while describing how he killed the love of his life
THE shuddering howls of the defendant were the only sounds to pierce the air as the court looked on in silence.
Oscar Pistorius sat hunched and gasping in the witness box. His sister Aimee and brother Carl clambered over the benches to embrace him. Beside them, his psychologist clutched at the Paralympic athlete's arm.
Minutes earlier, Pistorius had described "the moment everything changed", when he mistook his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder and fired at her four times through a locked lavatory door at his Pretoria home on St Valentine's Day last year.
Prompted by his barrister, the 27-year-old athlete told how, on realising his mistake, he tried to kick down the door, shouted for help, cried out for Steenkamp and prayed out loud before breaking it open with a cricket bat to find his blood-soaked girlfriend inside.
"I flung the door open. I sat over Reeva and I cried. I don't know how long I was there for," he said, choking through the sobs. "She wasn't breathing."
Steenkamp's mother June sat with her lawyer, showing no obvious emotion. A picture of her daughter pinned to the lapel of her cream jacket, she looked down as though taking notes.
As Pistorius collapsed in the witness box, Judge Masipa called for an adjournment, pushed her chair back and swept out. Her departure brought an abrupt end to a traumatic day on which Pistorius provided the first direct account of the 29-year-old model's last hours.
Starting his second day in the witness box, Pistorius, who denies murder, described a loving and supportive relationship that was in its early stages.
"I think at first I was more into Reeva than she was into me," he told Judge Masipa. "We just really enjoyed each other's company." By January, he said, the relationship became more serious. "We started really seeing a future together," he said. "We discussed me moving to Johannesburg. I was besotted."
On the night she died, Steenkamp shelved plans for a trip to the cinema with a girlfriend and offered to cook him supper. They both had a "taxing day" so, after chatting and checking over a modelling contract, they went to bed. He fell asleep with his head on her stomach as she watched television, he said.
He woke in the night and she asked if he could not sleep. Pistorius then went out to the balcony to bring in two fans and as he returned, he said he heard the bathroom window open.
Pistorius, tears running down his face, said: "That's the moment that everything changed. I thought there was a burglar gaining entry into my home.
"I think initially I just froze. I didn't really know what to do.
"The first thing that ran through my mind was that I needed to arm myself, protect Reeva and get my gun."
He said he spoke to Steenkamp as he got his gun from under the bed: "I whispered for Reeva to get down and phone the police."
He said that as he moved down the passage to the bathroom, he was "overcome with fear". He shouted for the "intruder" to get out of his house and for Steenkamp to call for help. He then heard another noise from inside the lavatory and, thinking someone was coming out, he fired four times.
"I kept shouting for Reeva to phone the police," he said. He stood "I don't know how long" before realising his girlfriend had not responded.
"The first thing I thought was maybe she'd got down to the floor like I'd told her to," he said, but he could not find her. "I didn't want to believe it could be Reeva inside the lavatory.
"I didn't know what to do. I kicked the door. I was crying out, I was screaming. I haven't ever screamed like that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)