Former Olympian and Paralymian Oscar Pistorius told the family of Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend who he shot and killed on Valentines Day of 2013, that he wanted to protect her. As he took the stand in his own defense today, he broke down in tears and said he apologizes to Reeva Steenkamp’s parents for shooting and killing her. In a trembling voice, ex-Track and Field star told Steenkamp’s family and the court that “I just wanted to protect Reeva.” He went on to state that he had thought continuously about the victim’s family. In addition to claiming feelings of deep regret, and a wish to protect his 29-year old girlfriend, that he suffers from sleep related issues, “I’m scared to sleep. I can smell blood and wake up terrified.” The defendant went on to state that he is on anti-depressant medication.
Pistorius’ testimony is the latest round in a court case that has been dubbed “The Trial of the Century.” The defendant, who won international acclaim for competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics, while also competing in the Paralympic Games. The 27-year old defendant shot Steenkamp through a bathroom door. He later told the police that he thought she was a burglar.
Pistorius has been something of a loner since his trial started on March 3 of this year. Until he took the stand, the former athlete, known around the world as “Blade Runner,” due to his using a special pair of blades to run, has apparently not wanted to say much during the trial. Since the trial began, Pistorius has appeared weak and easily annoyed. He has been seen crying and vomiting while listening to graphic testimony his girlfriend’s killing. Meanwhile, the prosecution has claimed the killing was in fact murder, and not a bungled act of protection, as he claims.
Pistorius has gone from hero to pariah in the past year. Once seen as a shining example of one who can overcome odds to excel, the former track star now on trial for murder is often thought of as an entitled hothead, enamored with firearms, who is trying to avoid a murder conviction via crocodile tears and very expensive defense. Pistorius has been able to afford high-priced defense attorney Barry Roux, thanks to lucrative endorsements he received while still considered a celebrity. However, it is also believed that the defense will exhaust much of that wealth.
Despite the fairly popular belief that a majority of South Africans own guns, the fact is that South Africa ranks 50th in legal per capita gun ownership. However, like the United States, many in South Africa want a gun and indeed own several firearms for various reasons including to protect themselves and their homes. In spite of strict gun laws, South Africa remains a hot bed for people killed by criminals, with a murder rate over six times that of the United States. Pistorius was well-known for having a collection of guns, and for sleeping with a pistol next to him for self-defense, and as he says to protect his girlfriend, Steenkamp. His testimony of his intent to do this is expected to last throughout the day.
Commentary by Ian Erickson