IN a trembling apology to Barry and June Steenkamp, Paralympian Oscar Pistorius poured his heart out to the world yesterday as he took to the stand for the first time since he killed his girlfriend, former Port Elizabeth model Reeva Steenkamp.
“You are the first people I think of when I wake up and the first people I pray for,” he said in the Pretoria High Court. “Mr and Mrs Steenkamp, I want to take this opportunity to say that I am sorry.
“There is not a moment since this tragedy that I have not thought of you. I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I have caused you and your family.”
Pistorius – who “has taken refuge in God during this terrible tragedy” – has pleaded not guilty to murder, saying he shot Steenkamp, 29, in the mistaken belief there was an intruder in his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. The state says he killed her after an argument.
Facing Steenkamp’s mother, June, sitting in the front row of the public gallery, without her husband who has been too ill to attend the trial, Pistorius, 27, fought back the tears, his lip trembling.
“I have been trying to put words down on paper, but no words suffice,” he said. “There is not a moment when I wake up and don’t think about what happened.
“I was trying to protect Reeva. I want you to know that when she went to bed that night she was loved.”
Professor James Grant, of the Wits Law School, said whether the apology from Pistorius was sincere was the million-dollar question.
“If the court regards it as sincere, it can unquestionably only count in his favour. If convicted of something related to Steenkamp’s death, then in sentencing it will be used to show if he has shown remorse.” But Grant said: “One of the biggest things that it [the apology] does not change is his state of mind at the time that he pulled the trigger.”
Defence advocate Barry Roux, carefully guiding Pistorius throughout his testimony, asked him if he was on medication.
“Yes, various types … sleeping pills and antidepressants,” he said.
“I have difficulty sleeping … I am scared to sleep. I smell blood and I wake up terrified. I wake up in a state of complete terror at the slightest noises.
“I hid in a cupboard towards the end of last year. There was a security guard outside my front door, but I was terrified and phoned my sister to come to me.”
Portraying Pistorius as a Godfearing Christian, dog-lover, and a victim of violent crimes, the defence carefully laid out its case.
Roux talked Pistorius through his disabilities, his childhood and his mother’s death when he was 15. Pistorius testified that while growing up with his mother, she had been security conscious.
“We didn’t live in the best of areas. There was a lot of crime.
“She slept with her pistol in a padded bag under her pillow. She would call the police, call us to her room and we would wait for the police to arrive.”
He did not know his mother was sick before she died. “When she died, I struggled with my faith.”
Roux, addressing Pistorius on his experience with crime, asked him how he had been affected.
“My father has been hijacked twice. My brother was in an attempted hijacking. We have had many housebreakings.
“I’ve been followed home late at night. I’ve been shot at on the highway … a car was behind me, I pulled over, the car moved past me and then slowed down.
That’s when I saw the muzzle flashes and heard the bangs. I have helped people who have been victims of vicious assaults,” Pistorius said. And your religion? Roux asked.
“When I met Reeva, I thought she was a blessing from God. Reeva was a strong Christian … she prayed for me at night about my training. It is God who has got me through this last year, which has been a struggle. God has been my refuge through this terrible tragedy, my strength.”
Earlier pathologist Dr Jan Botha, first witness for the defence, said Steenkamp could have screamed after the first shot to the hip.
Botha also agreed with previous evidence by the state’s ballistics expert, Captain Christian Mangena, that the fourth shot was a fatal head wound.
– Graeme Hosken