On Stand, A Weeping Pistorius Apologizes To Girlfriend’s Family

By Bill Chappell NPR

An emotional Oscar Pistorius broke down soon after taking the witness stand Monday at his murder trial in South Africa, saying he has nightmares about the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in which he wakes up to the smell of blood. He’s charged with killing her after an argument on Valentine’s Day in 2013.

The track star has said he thought an intruder was in the bathroom where Steenkamp was shot; he fired through the door several times, killing her. Pistorius began his testimony Monday with a tearful apology to Steenkamp’s parents:

“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family. I wake up every morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can’t imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I’ve caused you and your family. I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise that when she went to bed that night, she felt loved.”

Pistorius added that he had tried to write to Steenkamp’s family many times, “but no words would ever suffice.”

His voice quavered as he spoke, prompting a request from Judge Thokozile Masipa that Pistorius speak up. The Steenkamps sat in the courtroom without showing a visible reaction.

Under questioning by defense attorney Barry Roux, Pistorius went on to outline details about his medical history, including his recent use of antidepressants and sleeping pills.

“I’m scared to sleep, for several reasons,” Pistorius said. “I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night, where I wake up and I smell … I can smell blood. And I wake up to being terrified. If I hear a noise, I wake up just in a complete state of terror, to the point that I’d rather not sleep than fall asleep and wake up like that.”

The trial has brought several emotional moments, particularly when police and pathologists testified about the scene at Pistorius’ house. Photos were shown in court, along with the bullet-riddled bathroom door.

On Monday, Pistorius’ defense team sought to detail his personal history, from the physical condition of his legs to his early family life and his track career. The athlete also said he and his family had been the victims of crime — something prosecutors have said isn’t the case in the “security estate” where Steenkamp died, South Africa’s SABC agency reports.

Pistorius said he never wants to handle a firearm again. He said he now has an armed guard at his house.

Monday’s proceedings were adjourned ahead of schedule, as the judge in the case agreed with Pistorius’ attorney that the defendant seemed exhausted and overwhelmed. Pistorius is expected to testify for much of this week.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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