I’m sorry, says a tearful Oscar

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IOL  st oscar crying 3.JPG AP Oscar Pistorius in the High Court in Pretoria. File photo: Themba Hadebe

Johannesburg - Oscar Pistorius has told the world that he wants to apologise to the Steenkamp family for the immense sadness he has caused them.

After weeks of intense testimony and evidence, Oscar Pistorius finally took to the stand in his murder trial on Monday.

The athlete stands accused of shooting and killing his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius took his oath in a hushed tone, choosing to stand at the start of the examination by defence advocate Barry Roux.

But before the examination could begin, the athlete gave an apology to the Steenkamp family.

Fighting back tears, he said: “There hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about her family.”

“They're the first people I pray for,” he said, looking towards the family in the gallery, acknowledging their sadness.

“I cant imagine their pain, sorrow...”

“I can promise that when she went to bed that night, she felt love.”

He told the court he'd been on anti-depressant medication since the incident.

He said he'd been having trouble sleeping, and plagued by memories of the night, describing how he sometimes wakes up terrified and smelling blood. He said at times he would rather stay awake than be awoken in such shock.

At one point, he phoned his sister, Aimee, from his cupboard after a particularly bad night's sleep.

He also added he no longer wants to be near firearms, and has hired a security guard to watch him.

He then detailed his personal and professional history, including his parents' separation and his mother's death when he was 15.

He described his disability as mostly being a problem when he did not have his prosthetic legs, making him lack balance.

Pistorius said he was born with a birth defect that ultimately resulted in both of his legs being amputated.

He used a series of prosthetics growing up, receiving new ones each time he grew taller.

The athlete said his mother had always supported him in all of his endeavours.

He said in primary school, he was sometimes bullied, but his family encouraged him to stand up for himself.

He told the court how his mother had kept a firearm in a padded bag under her pillow because of safety concerns in their area.

Pistorius said he was devastated when his mother unexpectedly passed away, shortly after she had remarried. “My brother and I didn't even know she was sick,” said Pistorius. He and his siblings were by her bedside just 10 minutes before she died.

Pistorius said he'd always had a love of athletics, and began training professionally after he left high school.

He believed he started to excel in 2009, when he ran in the paralympic games in Athens. Prior to that he had also performed well in able-bodied competitions.

He also detailed the controversy he faced when he was accused of having an advantage with his prosthetic legs when racing.

In 2010 he continued his able-bodied races, and entered the world championships, where he broke the 400-metre record.

Roux then asked about Pistorius's mobility on his stumps. Pistorius said he had limited balance and movement without his prosthetics, and that on the left side, he had problems with the bone growing through the stump.

He said he can't place much weight on his left side because of it, and had consulted with his surgeon about a possible correction.

Pistorius then provided some examples of his charity work with other disabled people in Mozambique.

He said his professional athletics training had meant he had less time to spend with his friends and family, changing the dynamics of his life.

Roux then asked about a boating accident Pistorius had experienced in 2009 at the Vaal River. The athlete said he had suffered head injuries. He said he was much more wary of losing his life, and was much more invested in his career after the accident.

Pistorius then spoke of how he airs his prosthetic legs at night. He said he would cover his legs with a bag as they were an “extension of his body”.

Earlier in the day, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused defence pathology expert, Jan Botha, of favouring a version of events because it matched Pistorius'. “That is nonsense,” Botha replied, saying he was not trying to win the case for the state or the accused.

Botha had given another version of Steenkamp's final moments earlier today.

Botha was asked about the ballistics reports presented by state expert, Chris Mangena.

He said it was likely that the first shot that hit the deceased was when she was standing, leaning slightly forward and fairly close to the door.

This corroborated Mangena's testimony, who said the first shot hit her hip, pushing Steenkamp backwards so she fell on the magazine rack, propping her up. She was then hit by the other bullets that led to her other injuries and death.

According to Botha, the second shot was most likely the one that hit her right arm, causing abrasions on her chest.

The third shot was the one that injured Steenkamp's left hand, that ricocheted off the toilet wall.

It was only then that Botha said she fell down. The expert said it was as she was falling that she took the last shot to her head.

Botha said there was no blood inside the magazine rack, meaning it was unlikely she had been pushed up by the magazine rack, or sitting on it.

The effect of the shot to the arm would “be akin to a dramatic amputation”, Botha said.

Steenkamp would have had no control over her arm after it was shot.

Botha theorised the marks on Steenkamp's back weren't from the shrapnel of a richocheting bullet, but rather the magazine rack she hit while falling down.

He said that once the first bullet had hit Steenkamp, she would have been in shock and become unstable, making only reflexive movements. If the shots were fired within four to five seconds, it was unlikely she could have called out, according to Botha. He did say, however, that if there was further time between shots, she could have screamed.

Botha was shown the hip-wound Steenkamp had sustained, but not before an image of her head wound was accidentally flashed to the court, drawing gasps from the gallery.

Nel argued that simply based on the wound, it would be very difficult to determine Steenkamp's position behind the door.

But Botha disagreed saying the nature of the damage could give an idea of her position.

Botha was told to look at the bathroom door that had been reconstructed in the court room.

Pistorius' defence team had originally argued that the athlete had “double tapped” when firing through the door, meaning two sets of two shots in quick succession. This is part of the argument that Steenkamp would have sustained an incapacitating injury immediately, and thus could not have screamed.

Botha said he could not comment on this as he was not a ballistics expert.

He said when examining the door, only a certain amount of information could be extracted from bullet holes so close together, and he'd only examined their height on the door.

Nel also argued that Mangena's version of a ricocheting bullet was never challenged by the defence.

Botha reiterated that it was likely that it would have taken Steenkamp a few seconds to react after being shot in the hip, and that she would have been hit again before she could have screamed. Botha said if she was shot out of the blue, then she would have been less likely to have shouted.

Nel said the defence and the state both argued that Steenkamp was in a state of fear. The defence had argued that Pistorius was shouting about an intruder, telling her to call the police, while she was in the cubicle.

In his re-examination, Roux said the defence no longer offered the “double tap” explanation and now said he had fired in rapid succession.

He asked about Steenkamp's possible reaction to the shots.

Botha said even if she had been in the bathroom being shouted out, being behind a locked door, she would have been incredibly shocked when a bullet came through it.

He also said that he could not fathom how two marks on Steenkamp's back had come from a bullet ricocheting, and that it likely came from hitting the magazine rack.

Nel told the court he was shocked that the defence were no longer arguing the “double tap” argument, and were instead going with a rapid succession of bullets.

Botha said that should one fire rapidly, the firearm would move around, which would explain the placements of the bullet holes on the door.

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