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An emotional Oscar Pistorius has begun testifying at his murder trial in South Africa.
The international media spotlight was firmly on the court in Pretoria with expectations that Pistorius would be the first defense witness on the first day back for the high profile celebrity trial, which had been adjourned for a week due to the illness of one of the judge’s advisors.
The strain on Pistorius of having to wait a week to give evidence — and having to sit through another ninety minutes of grisly testimony — showed as prepared to take the stand.
Before he took the stand, the double amputee Olympian had to sit through an hour and half of testimony from a pathologist called as a defense witness, during which time details of Reeva Steenkamp’s injuries suffered from her shooting by Pistorius, appeared to cause him to vomit in court — a reaction he’s been subject to several times during evidence in the past weeks.
Pistorius faces a 25-year jail term if found guilty of the premeditated murder of Steenkamp, whom he admits shooting through the bathroom door of his home in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day last year. Pistorius contends that he thought he was shooting an intruder.
Pistorius began his turn in court tearfully reading a statement to Steenkamp’s family, who have sat on a bench adjacent to him during the first 15 days of the trial.
“I want to apologize to Reeva’s family, to those of you who knew her and are here today. There is not a moment and there hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family,” he said.
“I wake up in the morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved,” he continued. “I’ve tried to put my words on paper many times to write to you but no words would ever suffice.”
Speaking of the effect that the shooting has had on him he told the court that he has taken antidepressants and sleeping pills and finds it hard to sleep.
“I am scared to sleep.… I have terrible nightmares about what happened that night. I wake up and I can smell blood,” he said in a shaky voice.
Because of the terror, he did not sleep for several weeks, he added.
However, little else of that night was recounted before the court adjourned for lunch, with the remainder of his testimony given over to biographical details of his early life as a double amputee, details of his athletic career and a near-death experience in a motorboat accident in 2009.
It’s the first time that Pistorius has had the chance to be heard at his trial, although his testimony won’t be seen.
While live TV coverage of the court proceedings continued during Pistorius’ testimony, the athlete can only be heard giving his evidence. General courtroom scenes and questioning and comment from the barristers and the judge are shown live instead.
According to rules governing the broadcast of this case, the first time a South African court case has been televised, neither the testimony of Pistorius or his witnesses nor any part of confidential discussions between Pistorius and his lawyers can be broadcast in any way.
Observers in South Africa say Pistorius’ testimony is crucial, as it will allow the judge to determine his credibility.
The trial is expected to run until mid-May.
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