Apr 7, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT
Oscar Pistorius took the stand for the first time on the 17th day of his murder trial, immediately apologizing to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he fatally shot on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Pistorius directed his opening comments on Monday toward the Steenkamp family that was in attendance in the Pretoria courtroom, including Reeva’s mother, June.
“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Steenkamp, to Reeva’s family, to those of you who knew her who are here today,” Pistorius said, standing, his voice breaking, before being interrupted by the judge to speak louder. “I’d like to apologize and say that 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. I’ve tried to put my words on paper many, many times, to write to you, but no words will ever suffice.”
Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder locked in his bathroom when he shot four times through a locked door, hitting and killing her inside. The prosecution claims Pistorius killed Steenkamp after an argument.
He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, he could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.
Pistorius testified Monday that he never wants to handle a firearm again, or be near one. He said a security guard stands outside his door nightly, that he has lost weight and has nightmares. One night, he sought refuge inside a cupboard and called his sister, Aimee, to sit with him.
“I’m scared to sleep, for several reasons,” Pistorius said. “I have terrible memories about things that happened that night. I wake up and smell the blood. I wake up to being terrified. When I hear a noise, I wake up in a complete state of terror to a point that I’d rather not fall asleep.”
Pistorius was on the stand for about 90 minutes with a lunch break in between. Most of it was spent detailing his upbringing after being born without fibulas and having both legs amputated, his rise in track and field and his history of witnessing crime in South Africa.
“I think everybody in South Africa’s been exposed to crime at some point,” he said, noting house break-ins, carjackings and being shot at while driving on a highway.
Pistorius said he’s never taken performance-enhancing drugs but that he would drink alcohol, sometimes excessively, in the offseason.
Pistorius elected not to be shown on live streams broadcast globally, but his emotion was clear when he spoke of his mother, who died suddenly when he was 15, and of Steenkamp.
He said he did not sleep the previous night, as he was anticipated to take the stand Monday.
“I’m just tired,” Pistorius said in his final comments before his lead attorney asked for and was granted an early adjournment for the day. “It’s a lot of things, obviously, going through my mind. The weight of this is extremely overbearing, so I think it’s just a lot to think about.”
Pistorius wept after the judge left for the day and was comforted by family members, according to reports from court.
The trial is expected to resume, with Pistorius on the stand, at 3:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
Here’s Pistorius taking the stand and emotionally apologizing to the Steenkamp family:
Here’s Pistorius talking about his state of mind after not sleeping Sunday night:
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