May 5, 2014, 8:11 AM EDT
The first two neighbors to arrive at Oscar Pistorius‘ house after he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp described a “frantic” scene from last year at the runner’s murder trial Monday.
Friend Johan Stander testified he believed Pistorius made a mistake killing Steenkamp on the early morning of Valentine’s Day 2013, after seeing the runner crying and praying shortly after the shooting.
“[Pistorius] was torn apart, broken, desperate, pleading,” Stander said in a Pretoria, South Africa, court room. “It’s difficult, really, to describe, and his commitment to save the young lady’s life, when he put his finger in [her] mouth and tried to keep the airway open to breathe. How he begged her to stay with him, how he begged God to keep her alive. I saw the truth there that morning. I saw it, and I feel it.”
The trial resumed Monday, after a two-week adjournment, for its 26th day. The prosecution already wrapped its case, and the defense said it expected to finish calling up to 17 witnesses by mid-May. Stander and his daughter, Carice Viljoen, were the fourth and fifth witnesses called by the defense.
They both testified Pistorius told them that morning, in separate conversations, that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot four times through a locked bathroom door, killing her inside.
The prosecution asserts he knowingly shot Steenkamp after an argument. Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympics in 2012, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder. If not found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter for negligent killing.
Pistorius has said Stander was the first person he called after shooting Steenkamp, waking Stander around 3:20 a.m.
“Please, please, please come to my house, please,” Stander, who has known the runner since 2009, said Pistorius told him. “I shot Reeva. I thought she was a intruder. Please, please come quick.”
Viljoen said she drove Stander in a silver Mini to Pistorius’ house, about a minute away in the same gated community. They arrived a few minutes after the phone call. Viljoen turned the car’s hazards on. Then she, followed by Stander, rushed past a security guard and a worker from Pistorius’ house and through an ajar front door with a light on inside.
“From the second that we walked into that house, he was frantic,” Viljoen said.
They first saw Pistorius carrying Steenkamp down stairs.
“When Mr. Pistorius saw us, there was relief on his face,” Stander said. “He was crying. He was really crying. He was in pain, and he asked us to please assist him.”
Viljoen stayed in and knelt next to Steenkamp, with Pistorius on the other side.
“I just saw blood everywhere,” Viljoen said in hectic testimony given “at the speed of light,” the lead prosecutor later said.
Viljoen went upstairs to grab a few towels to control the bleeding. Pistorius stayed behind, begging and pleading with Steenkamp not to leave him, Viljoen said.
“Stay with me, my love,” Pistorius said, according to Viljoen.
Viljoen asked Pistorius what happened.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘I thought she was an intruder,'” Viljoen said, not asking a follow-up because, “We just continued trying to save her life at that stage.”
Viljoen said she saw Pistorius vomit a few times. Pistorius later went upstairs, and she feared he might have gone to find a gun to shoot himself.
Stander went outside to call an ambulance, and Steenkamp was declared dead shortly after it arrived, he said.
“It was a hectic day,” Viljoen said.
In the court room, Pistorius leaned over and covered his face with his hands during the most emotional testimony Monday.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, one day before South Africa’s election day Wednesday.
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