TIME Africa

Pistorius Breaks Down On Witness Stand

The South African paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day last year, was overcome with grief on the witness stand during his second day of testimony

Updated 8:56am

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial adjourned the court Tuesday when the Olympic athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend began weeping on the stand as he described her death. “She wasn’t breathing,” he sobbed.

Pistorius removed his prosthetics on the stand as he recalled the moments leading to the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, whom the double-amputee sprinter claims he mistook for a home invader on Feb. 14 of last year.

Pistorius, 27, told the court that after a calm Valentine’s Day evening that included the exchange of gifts, he woke up to noises that he believed came from an intruder. “That was the moment everything changed,” Pistorius said. “I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home.” He said that he told Steenkamp to get down and call the police.

The accused, who had changed from a suit into a T-shirt and shorts, left the witness box on his stumps to show how he went to the bathroom. He said he worried that the invader “could come at me at any time — I didn’t have my legs on.”

After putting his prosthetics back on, Pistorius returned to the stand to describe the seconds leading up to his shooting of Steenkamp four times through the bathroom door. Pistorius said that he screamed for Steenkamp to get on the ground, and when he heard a toilet door slam he knew that someone was in the bathroom. “There was ringing in my ears,” Pistorius said, crying, as he described taking the four shots through the bathroom door. He was unable to continue, and the judge adjourned until the next morning.

Earlier in the trial, Pistorius said he was “besotted” with the 29-year-old model.

“I was very keen on Reeva. If anything, I was more into her sometimes than she was into me,” Pistorius, 27, said during his televised testimony, adding that he fell in love with her instantly. “The first six days we knew each other, we saw each other every day.”

He also said that the couple were discussing “a future with each other,” that they had been “looking at interior design together” and were planning a trip to Brazil in March 2013, the month after her death.

During Tuesday’s testimony, the “Blade Runner” also read and explained the text messages he and Reeva Steenkamp had sent each other after having an argument. Steenkamp wrote that she was “scared” of him sometimes, and the SMSs were submitted as evidence by prosecutors earlier in the trial.

Pistorius, who admitted that the couple had a fiery relationship, is later expected to speak about the night he shot Steenkamp.

Pistorius began his testimony Monday by apologizing to Steenkamp’s family. He went on to describe the “security concerns” his family had during his childhood in South Africa.

“We grew up in a family where my father wasn’t around much so my mother had a pistol. She would often get scared at night so she would call the police — we didn’t stay in the best of suburbs,” the athlete said.

“She kept her firearm under her bed, under her pillow in a padded leather type of bag,” he said, adding that the family experienced several break-ins during his childhood.

The trial is set to continue until mid-May. If Oscar Pistorius is convicted, he will face a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years in prison.

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