TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius: Reeva Steenkamp Died in My Arms

Olympic and Paralympic track star Pistorius arrives ahead of his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius arrives ahead of his third day at the witness stand in the court in Pretoria on April 9, 2014. © Siphiwe Sibeko—Reuters

The South African paralympian on trial for the murder of his girlfriend provides testimony for a third time about the day in February 2013 when he shot Steenkamp, claiming he thought she was an intruder and recounting how he 'felt helpless' as she died in his arms

Oscar Pistorius recounted how his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, died in his arms with her blood soaking him when he took the witness stand for the third day Wednesday.

The South African athlete, who is on trial accused of murdering his model girlfriend, described how he shot her through the bathroom door of his house on Valentine’s Day last year, saying he mistook her for an intruder.

On Tuesday the judge adjourned the court when Pistorius became very emotional, weeping and wailing as he described the events leading up to the realization that he had killed his girlfriend.

Pistorius, who will face a 25-year prison sentence if convicted, was more composed Wednesday, but still obviously distressed. His voice was quivering as he recounted the moment he entered the bathroom after breaking the locked door with a cricket bat and saw his girlfriend.

“I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t,” Pistorius said in his televised testimony, which is being followed by viewers worldwide.

He said that he pulled her from the bathroom to the bedroom and put her down “softly on the carpet.”

“I felt helpless. I had my fingers in her mouth to help her breathe,” he said. “I could feel her blood was running down on me.”

He then went back into the bedroom to find his phone and called a neighbor to ask for help, and then he called his gated community’s security office and emergency services. Neighbors, paramedics and police came to the home, but Pistorius said he knew it was too late.

“Reeva had already died while I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew that there was nothing that they could do for her.”

The trial continues.

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.

TIME pistorius trial

Pistorius Trial Delayed as Judge’s Aide Hospitalized

Pistorius arrives ahead of  his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
Oscar Pistorius was expected to testify for the first time Friday © Siphiwe Sibeko – Reuters

Oscar Pistorius, the 27-year-old Paralympian charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013, was expected to take the stand on Friday but will wait until the trial reconvenes on April 7

The judge in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has delayed proceedings until April 7, as one of his two accessors is ill in hospital, AP reports.

The athlete, known as “blade runner” because of his trademark prosthetic limbs, was expected to take the stand Friday as his defense lawyers begin their case. The last four weeks have been taken up by the prosecution.

Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last February and faces a 25-year sentence if convicted of her murder. The 27-year-old South African maintains that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home and shot her through the bathroom door by accident.

[AP]

 

TIME

Guilty or Innocent? Making Sense of Oscar Pistorius’ Retching Reaction

Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Pistorius at Pretoria High Court on March 11, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Getty Images

What forensic science tells us about such dramatic reactions in court

On Monday, in the most dramatic day of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial, the Olympic sprinter known as Blade Runner simply couldn’t take it any more. As the pathologist presented the results of his autopsy on the body of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who Pistorius shot to death on Valentine’s Day in 2013, the athlete brought his hands over his ears in a child-like attempt to block out what he was hearing, and even vomited as the graphic details of how the Steenkamp was likely killed were laid out.

Were the dramatic reactions a physiological, visceral reaction to the horror of that night – after all, bystanders who witness horrific trauma at car accidents or fires often have similar responses – or were they a calculated attempt to convince the judge, who will decide Pistorius’ fate, of his innocence?

MORE: Oscar Pistorius Tells Court How He Shot Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

“It’s a rather extreme form of reaction to a trauma cue or something that is disturbing,” says Angel Daniels, assistant professor of forensic psychology at Marymount University. “It certainly could be indicative of him being exposed to something that he finds truly upsetting and disgusting.” According to testimony by a neighbor and police at the scene, Pistorius, who says he shot Steenkamp through a bathroom door thinking she was an intruder, realized his mistake and carried Steenkamp’s body out of the bathroom after attempting to revive her. He was covered in her blood and tissue.

It’s also possible that he was malingering; “faking symptoms often tends to be a little more dramatic than one would expect if they were genuine,” says Daniels. “The dramatic nature of his reactions would bring malingering into question for most psychologists.”

Not surprisingly, there isn’t much data on such dramatic outbursts by defendants in the courtroom. Testimony by pathologists is often graphic, and frequently families of victims leave the room in order to avoid the trauma of seeing their loved one in autopsy photos or hearing about their possible last breaths. But data on defendants isn’t as robust – or revealing.

MORE: From The TIME Files: A 2007 Talk With Oscar Pistorius

“That type of behavior could mean he is still grieving the loss of his loved one,” says Michael Fogel, associate professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “It could also mean perhaps he has a sense of guilt. Or it could mean fear, or stress. Reactions to any of these can produce that type of physiological response.”

The only way to find clues about what drove Pistorius to respond that way, he says, is to study his past reactions to similarly traumatic events. People who aren’t used to seeing graphic images, for example, may retch upon seeing blood and death. Exploring how Pistorius historically responded to grief could shed some light on why he reacted so dramatically in court. “It’s possible that that type of grieving is something that is consistent with who he is,” says Fogel.

MORE: How Oscar Pistorius Went From Track Star To Accused Murderer

Daniels also notes that grieving is culturally shaped, and that the crying, retching, and attempts to block out the testimony may seem extreme and even “cartoonish” to Americans, but be perfectly acceptable in other societies where wailing and external expressions of emotions are more common.

There’s also another possibility – that seeing and hearing the autopsy results made Steenkamp’s death real in a way that was particularly difficult for Pistorius. Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that athletes who become celebrities like Pistorius develop an ego that may distort their sense of reality. “Athletes are treated differently – by their parents, their coaches, their friends,” he says. “That inflates their sense of entitlement. So he may be feeling a lot of terror. He could just be terrified about what happened, that his life changed in a matter of seconds. Some people use denial as a defense mechanism, but denial breaks down and reality hits. So when he was confronted with the evidence, those defense mechanisms may have broken down, and that might have been the reaction that we saw.”

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