By Joe Brock
PRETORIA (Reuters) – Oscar Pistorius told a South African court on Wednesday that his girlfriend died in his arms, blood pouring from her body, as he tried to revive her after shooting her by mistake.
Facing questioning from prosecutor Gerrie Nel for the first time in his murder trial, Pistorius admitted killing Reeva Steenkamp at his home on Feb. 14 last year but said “I made a mistake”.
The double amputee Olympic and Paralympic sprinter, once revered the world over for his triumph over adversity, faces life in prison if convicted of the murder of Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate and model.
His defense hinges on his contention that he thought he was firing at an intruder when shot Steenkamp through a toilet door in his luxury Pretoria home. The prosecution aims to show he was a hot-headed character who loved to play with guns.
Pistorius, fighting back tears, told the court how he desperately tried to revive Steenkamp, who was hit by three of four pistol rounds he fired through the door.
“I checked to see if she was breathing and she wasn’t,” he said. “I could feel the blood was running down on me,” Pistorius
Pathologists said she was mortally wounded by one shot to the head.
He eventually managed to carry Steenkamp down stairs where neighbors tried to administer first aid before paramedics arrived.
But Pistorius said he knew that Steenkamp – with whom he said he was planning to buy a house – was already dead.
“The paramedics arrived. They asked for some space to work so I stood up,” he said, his voice quavering with emotion.
“Reeva, Reeva had already died whilst I was holding her, before the ambulance arrived, so I knew there was nothing they could do for her.”
With no direct witnesses, Nel’s main task is to pick holes in Pistorius’ version of events and cast doubt on the veracity of his testimony about a perceived burglar.
He opened his case by asking Pistorius about his international reputation and strong Christian beliefs before hitting him with the reality of what took place.
“You are a model for sportsmen, disabled and abled bodied sportsmen, all over the world?” Nel asked.
“I think I was, My Lady. I made a mistake,” replied Pistorius, answering to judge Thokozile Masipa, only the second black woman to ascend to the South African bench.
“You killed a person, that’s what you did,” came the reply.
“I made a mistake. My mistake was that I took Reeva’s life,” 27-year-old Pistorius said.
“You killed her. You shot and killed her. Won’t you take responsibility for that?” Nel said.
Nel then went on to ask whether Pistorius, well-known as a weapons enthusiast, knew what a ‘zombie stopper’ was, to which Pistorius replied ‘No’.
After a brief adjournment, the court then viewed video footage broadcast on Britain’s Sky News of Pistorius firing a handgun at a water-melon at a shooting range.
As the melon disintegrates, a male voice off-camera that sounds like Pistorius says: “It’s a lot softer than brains. But (bleep) it’s like a zombie stopper.”
Pistorius admitted it was his voice, leading to Nel to press him on his motives for wanting to see the water melon explode.
“You know that the same happened to Reeva’s head. It exploded. I’m going to show you,” he said, before projecting a forensic photograph of Steenkamp’s head, the side and back of her head matted with blood and brains, on the court monitors.
“Take responsibility for what you have done,” he told Pistorius, eliciting gasps from the packed public gallery.
Pistorius hid his head in his hands in the witness stand, rocking from side to side, sobbing and saying he took responsibility “but I will not look”.
(Reporting by Joe Brock; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Angus MacSwan)