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Oscar Pistorius breaks down on stand; murder trial is adjourned

Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeReeva SteenkampSouth AfricaOscar Pistorius

PRETORIA, South Africa -- The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius was adjourned for the day Tuesday after the South African Olympian broke down sobbing on the witness stand after testifying about the moment he smashed open his bathroom door and found his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, dying from gunshots he had fired.

Pistorius continued to cry after Pretoria High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa called an adjournment, and his sister, Aimee, ran across the courtroom to hug him.

After a short adjournment the court returned, only to stop the proceedings for the day, deeming Pistorius unfit to carry on.

Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux said the athlete’s shirt was soaked through and he was too emotionally overwrought to continue. Pistorius also cried on the witness stand Monday when testifying about Steenkamp and about his late mother.

The murder trial is due to resume Wednesday morning.

PHOTOS: Oscar Pistorius

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Steenkamp, claiming he opened fire believing he was shooting at an intruder. He also pleaded not guilty to two charges of recklessly discharging a gun, and to one charge of unlicensed possession of ammunition.

On the witness stand, he described waking up in the middle of a hot, muggy Pretoria night on Valentine’s Day 2013, moving two fans, closing a balcony, then hearing a window opening in the bathroom, a few yards from his bedroom where he said he had been asleep beside Steenkamp.

He screamed at what he said he thought were burglars to get out of his house and for Steenkamp to get down and call the police. He said he then took his gun and went to the entrance of the room.

The double amputee, who said he couldn’t balance well on the tiled floor, said he trained his gun on the door.

“I stood there for some time I’m not sure how long. I wasn’t sure if someone was going to come out of the toilet door and attack me,” he told the court.

“So I just stayed where I was and I kept on screaming.

“Then I heard a noise from inside the toilet of what I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet. Before I knew it I’d fired four shots at the door. My ears were ringing. I kept on shouting for Reeva to phone the police,” he said.

He said he then moved back to the bedroom, calling her name.

“No one responded to me,” he said. He said he then placed his hand on the bed, looking for Steenkamp.

“I felt if Reeva was there and I couldn’t feel anything. At that point the first thing I thought was maybe she’d got down onto the floor like I told to her. I was trying to talk out to her,” he said.

“I think it was at that point my lady that it first dawned upon me that it could be Reeva that was in the bathroom or toilet,” he said, addressing the judge. “I jumped out of the other side of the bed and I ran my hand along the curtains to see that she wasn’t hiding behind the curtains. I felt around and made my way back along the passage,” he said.

“I didn’t want to believe that it could be Reeva inside the toilet. I was still scared that maybe someone was coming in to attack me or us.”

He went into the bathroom and found the door locked, then ran back into the bedroom, panicked.

“I opened the door and I shouted from the balcony for help. I screamed ‘Help, help, help!' I screamed for somebody to help me. I was just panicked at this point. I didn’t know what to make or what to do.

“I was screaming and shouting the whole time and crying out.  I don’t think I’ve ever screamed or cried like that. I was crying out for the Lord to help me. I was crying out for Reeva."

Pistorius testified that he then  grabbed a cricket bat went back into the bathroom, kicked the door  and hit the door three times with the bat. The first blow left a small hole. Then he said he managed to knock loose a panel, wrenched it out and threw it on the floor, struggling to get the door open.

“I saw the key inside and unlocked the door and flung it open. I said ‘Oh Reeva,’ and I cried. He said he sat over Steenkamp, crying.

“I don’t know how long I was there for,” he sobbed. “She wasn’t breathing.”

Steenkamp died after three of the four bullets – expanding hollow-nosed bullets designed to cause maximum tissue damage, hit her in the hip, arm and head.

At this point of his testimony, Pistorius broke into loud, visceral sobbing, his body shaking, unable to speak.

Pistorius has not been back to his house since the night of the shooting and recently put his house up for sale to pay his legal fees.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesdixon

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Justice SystemCrime, Law and JusticeReeva SteenkampSouth AfricaOscar Pistorius
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