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Emotional Pistorius apologises to Steenkamp family

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-08

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Olympian accused of killing his girlfriend last year, apologised to her mother in the witness stand Monday, saying that he had opened fire in the belief he had been defending her from an intruder.

His voice cracking with emotion, Pistorius testified to the packed courtroom that he was “simply trying to protect” her when he had fired four shots on Valentines Day through a toilet door at his home in the South African city of Pretoria.

Reeva Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, was hit by at least three rounds fired by Pistorius, one of which - to the head - killed her almost instantly, the court has heard.

Reeva's mother June Steenkamp, who was sitting in the public gallery of Pretoria courtroom, bowed her head during his apology.

Since the shooting, 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star Pistorius, who faces life in prison if convicted of murder, testified he had been on anti-depressants and sleeping pills because of his disturbed state of mind.

"I'm scared to sleep. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night," he said. "I can smell blood. I wake up to being terrified."

He recounted one occasion when he woke up so scared in the middle of the night that he crawled into a cupboard before calling his sister, who came round to sit with him.

"I wake up in a complete state of terror to the point that I would rather not sleep," he added.

Earlier, during graphic forensic testimony from a defence pathologist, Pistorius sat in the dock, retching into a bucket.

An obsession with guns

The distraught figure in the witness stand bore little resemblance to the gun-obsessed, fast-living hot-head that prosecutors sought to portray during the first 16 days of the trial.

As well as murder, Pistorius is accused of firing a pistol through the sun roof of a friend's car while on a public road, and discharging a handgun underneath the table of a packed Johannesburg restaurant.

He has pleaded 'not guilty' to all charges.

The trial has gripped South Africa and millions of sports and athletics fans around the world who saw in Pistorius a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.

The sprinter's lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the "Blade Runer", a nickname derived from the carbon fibre prosthetic limbs he wears on the track.

After winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics, he stunned the world by reaching the semi-finals of the 400 metres in the London Olympics.

His defence hinges on his assertion that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the toilet when he shot her.

However, several witnesses have testified to hearing the terrified screams of a woman before and during a volley of shots.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-04-07

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