Pistorius apologises in court to family of Reeva Steenkamp
JUNE Steenkamp might not have heard the man who killed her daughter as he stood in the witness box, turned to her and quietly, tearfully mumbled the words she has waited over a year to hear.
After weeks of evidence in which Oscar Pistorius has been portrayed as a gun enthusiast, the Olympic athlete yesterday gave evidence for the first time in his trial where he is accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp.
He said he "never wants to be a near a firearm again" and told the court of one occasion when he woke in a panic in the middle of the night and hid in a cupboard, then telephoned his sister who came round to comfort him.
"I will start my evidence by tendering an apology," he said, when he finally took to the stand, on the first day of the sixth week of the murder trial. The apology lasted around a minute. Then came a long two hours in which, with the help of his defence counsel, Barry Roux, he described his life before the night he shot dead Ms Steenkamp.
"I would like to apologise to Mr and Mrs Steenkamp, her family and friends," he said. "I can't imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness I have caused you and your family. You're the first people I think of when I wake up. You're the first people I pray for. I was trying to protect Reeva. When she went to bed that night, she felt loved."
For her part, June Steenkamp remained stony-faced on the family bench, just a few seats up from Pistorius's own family.
Pistorius, who denies murder, revealed that he has been taking antidepressants since the shooting, and other medication to help him sleep at night. "I'm scared to sleep," he said tearfully. "I have terrible nightmares about what happened that night. I can smell blood. I wake up terrified."
The court heard long testimony of the violent crime he and his family have suffered over his life, and of how he was affected by a 2009 boat accident that almost killed him. Pistorius went through his own life history in some detail, talking of how his parents had separated when he was six, and then his mother died when he was 15.
"My mother had a lot of security concerns. We grew up in a family where my father wasn't around much, so my mother had a pistol," he said. "She would often get scared at night, so she would call the police - we didn't stay in the best of suburbs. She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow in a padded leather type of bag."
He said his father, Henke, had been "hijacked twice"; he had been followed home, threatened by shadowy anonymous parties and been "shot at on the freeway".
The court also heard from Dr Johan Botha, a pathologist for the defence, who spoke of the controversy and inaccuracy surrounding the science of "gastric emptying", and the state pathologist's claim that Ms Steenkamp almost certainly ate a meal at around 1am, hours after Pistorius claims they went to bed. For Pistorius to be convicted of murder, the state must prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Raising doubt is all the defence needs to do.
At some point today, the courtroom floor will be handed over to state prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who may cross-examine the athlete for a full week.
Over the past month, Pistorius has wept, covered his ears, shaken, retched and vomited at the mention of the grim reality of what occurred in his house on Valentine's day last year. There is no reason to expect Mr Nel will spare him from having to explain in great detail what happened, and every reason to expect the most harrowing scenes of the trial are yet to come.