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Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track star who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, reacts during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, April 7, 2014. (THEMBA HADEBE/NYT)
Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee track star who is accused of murdering his girlfriend, reacts during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, April 7, 2014. (THEMBA HADEBE/NYT)

Pistorius ‘overcome with fear’ moments before shooting girlfriend Add to ...

Follow The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent, Geoffrey York, @geoffreyyork, as he live tweets from Oscar Pistorius's murder trial.

Oscar Pistorius says he was “overcome with fear” and ran screaming toward his bathroom with his 9mm pistol in his hand after he heard a bathroom window opening and closing, just minutes before shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the bathroom door.

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In dramatic testimony that abruptly ended when he broke down in loud wails and sobs, the Olympic double-amputee hero said he was convinced that a burglar or burglars had entered his home after he heard the noise of the small window opening in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

“That’s the moment that everything changed,” Mr. Pistorius tearfully told his murder trial.

He said he was panicking because he feared that an armed intruder was about to come out of the bathroom. He said he fired four rapid shots at the door, leaving his ears ringing from the noise, and then rushed to look for Ms. Steenkamp, still believing she was in the bedroom. He said he even checked behind the curtains, thinking she was hiding, before realizing that he might have shot her.

Mr. Pistorius said he rushed to his balcony to scream for help. “I don’t think I’ve ever screamed or cried like that. I was crying out to the Lord to help me.”

His testimony suddenly ended when he broke into loud uncontrollable sobs, heaving with tears and howling, as he described how he found his lifeless girlfriend on the bathroom floor after breaking down the locked door.

The court immediately recessed to allow him to compose himself, and his family rushed to comfort him.

A few minutes later, defence lawyer Barry Roux asked for an adjournment until Wednesday, saying that Mr. Pistorius’s shirt was “soaking wet” from his tears.

Describing the first sounds of an opening and shutting window, Mr. Pistorius said he was terrified of the perceived threat, just a few metres from the bedroom, so he grabbed his pistol from beneath his bed to “protect” himself and Ms. Steenkamp.

He said he shouted and screamed, telling the “burglars” to leave and telling Ms. Steenkamp to “get down.” He was walking on his stumps because he had earlier removed his prosthetic legs to sleep for the night.

His bedroom was dark and he ran with his hand in front of him, Mr. Pistorius said. After screaming, he heard a door slamming and it “confirmed” that a person or persons were inside the bathroom, he said.

A few minutes earlier, he and Ms. Steenkamp had woken up, sleepless on a humid night, and Ms. Steenkamp had asked him whether he was unable to sleep, he said.

Mr. Pistorius spoke in a trembling but clear voice. On a courtroom bench just a few metres away, Ms. Steenkamp’s mother, June, was overcome with tears and hunched over, comforted by friends, as she heard Mr. Pistorius describe her daughter’s final moments.

Mr. Pistorius was wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt as he testified, because he had earlier removed his prosthetic legs to show his height in relation to the bathroom door – an exhibit in the courtroom.

In earlier testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Pistorius flatly denied that he had fired his 9mm pistol through the open sunroof of a car in September, 2012, despite testimony from two friends who had been in the car. He acknowledged, however, that he was angry and “agitated” because a policeman had picked up his pistol and removed a bullet from it, after stopping their car for speeding.

Asked about an incident in January, 2013, in which he had discharged a pistol in a busy restaurant, Mr. Pistorius said it was a “mistake” and “stupid” of him to ask his friend Darren Fresco to pass him the gun, but he blamed Mr. Fresco for giving him an unsafe loaded gun. He denied he had asked Mr. Fresco to take the blame for the shooting, insisting that it was his friend’s idea to accept the blame.

Mr. Pistorius also read excerpts from a huge stack of cellphone messages between him and Ms. Steenkamp as the defence tried to establish that they had a loving relationship. The messages included several examples of arguments between them, but the “unhappiness” was always “resolved” afterward, Mr. Pistorius said.

In one message, after an argument at a party, Ms. Steenkamp said she was sometimes “scared” of him. After reading the message in a choked voice, Mr. Pistorius said it was a “bad day” in their relationship. He said he was “upset” and “sensitive and maybe insecure or jealous” when she neglected him at a party, which led to her message.

Most of the messages between the two, however, were filled with terms of endearment and tender nicknames, and the defence was clearly trying to establish that they had a loving relationship.

 

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