After a highly emotional day in court, Oscar Pistorius finally broke down with uncontrollable sobs and wails while describing the events of Valentine’s Day 2013 and how he shot Reeva, his beautiful girlfriend, dead. After a short adjournment during which Pistorius, still sobbing loudly, left the courtroom with his brother Carl and sister Aimee, his advocate Barry Roux told the court he was “soaking wet” and too emotional to continue.
While the evidence was undeniably harrowing, Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp sat stoically composed, listening intently to every word he said. She has said publicly on several occasions that all she wants to know is the truth about how her daughter died. Several members of the Pistorius family were in tears during Oscar’s testimony of how he realized he had shot Reeva, including his uncle Arnold and sister Aimee. However, June Steenkamp was only visibly emotional when photographs of Reeva’s body were shown on the TV screens today by mistake. She bowed her head and leant forward, while Pistorius started retching again with his head in his hands.
The defense case began yesterday, and Pistorius was the second witness to take the stand. His evidence yesterday covered his childhood, his introduction to sports and competitive athletics, his attitude and approach to drugs and alcohol, and his experiences of crime in South Africa. He also talked about his pet dogs, and told the court about a boating accident he had in 2009 that resulted in a serious head injury.
How Oscar and Reeva Met
Today’s evidence began with background about how Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp met on November 4, 2012 at a car event in Johannesburg. Both were friends of Justin Divaris who was called to give evidence for the State last month. According to Pistorius, they “hit it off over lunch,” and this ended up with him inviting Reeva to join him at a sports award function that evening. He said he had a lot of fun and she was “a fantastic date.”
Emphasizing that he had already stopped seeing Samantha Taylor, a former girlfriend who was also called as a State witness last month, he outlined how his relationship with Reeva “really got going” in late January last year. Both of them had previously had “difficult relationships,” he said, and he was more “into her” than she was with him. He said he was “besotted” with her, and by mid-January they really started caring about one another. They had plans to travel and were going to decorate his newly purchased home in Johannesburg together. He also helped her with various contracts that would impact on her future, he said.
Text Messages and Their Relationship
Several WhatsApp messages were highlighted in the prosecution case, and these were again the subject of evidence today, with Pistorius explaining his side of the story. These included Steenkamp’s text messages after Darren Fresco’s party they had attended together, and according to her texts, had left early. It was in this message that she wrote about her disappointment in their “double-standard relationship,” and how she was sometimes scared of him.
He confirmed in court today that they had argued and that he had dropped her off at home because she was “so in a short mood with me.” It was, he said, “a bad day in our relationship.” At this stage Pistorius was very emotional and there were tears dripping off his nose. He was crying and sniffing, wiping the tears away with his hand that was shaking.
However Pistorius maintained that the argument was resolved and there were no bad feelings. He explained to the court that Steenkamp was stressed about her finances and she had been receiving a lot of hate mail, largely because she was seeing him, and people were accusing him of cheating on Samantha Taylor. Roux then focused on a large number of positive, sometimes passionate, text messages that featured lots of smiley faces and kisses (xxxxx). He was composed during this part of the day, and smiled when he read a message about her wanting to run away together somewhere. A large number of loving, caring messages were referred to.
Guns and the Lesser Charges
The three lesser charges facing Pistorius relate to an incident when he allegedly fired through the open sunroof of a car, another where he shot a gun in a restaurant, and the third for having illegal ammunition. He addressed all three today.
The sunroof shooting has already been described in detail by State witnesses Samantha Taylor and Darren Fresco who both maintained that after Fresco was stopped by the traffic police for speeding, Pistorius shot into the air further down the road. Today Pistorius denied that this ever happened although he conceded he had been agitated and there had been a scene with the policeman who stopped Fresco for speeding and handled his gun.
The other shooting was at a restaurant called Tasha’s when it is alleged that Fresco handed his gun to Pistorius under a table and a shot went off. Nobody is pretending it did not happen, but Pistorius said today that he did not know the gun was not safe and that there was a live bullet loaded in the chamber (“one bullet up”.) He also denied that he had asked Fresco to take the blame for the incident and said his friend had done this of his own accord.
The ammunition referred to in the third charge was, he said, owned by his father and was for a .38 calibre weapon – a type he had never owned. He maintained that the ammunition was with him for safekeeping and that he understood this was perfectly legal.
Later in the day Pistorius changed his clothing and removed his prosthetic legs to indicate his height in relation to the toilet door that is a court exhibit in the courtroom.
The Final Hours of Reeva Steenkamp’s Life
The latter part of Pistorius’s evidence today related to the final hours of his dead girlfriend’s life. He was generally calm and composed while describing the events of the last 24 hours, but when it got to describing what happened in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, and how he actually shot Reeva, Oscar Pistorius broke down totally and all that could be heard were sobs and wails in court.
Reeva had prepared dinner that evening, he said, and they had eaten shortly after 7 pm. He had then helped her wash the dishes. They decided to go to bed rather than watch television downstairs. It was a very hot, humid night and so he put two fans onto the balcony to suck in the cool air from outside. He drew the curtains that had blackout lining, and blinds, to ensure that bugs would not come into the room, locked the internal bedroom door and put a cricket bat close to the door because the lock mechanism was not very strong and he wanted a backup. There was a problem with the alarm system at the time, he said, so he activated the internal alarm with a remote but could not activate the external sensors.
After Steenkamp had done her yoga exercises on the floor of the bedroom they both cleaned their teeth and got into bed. He by this time had removed his prosthetic legs and put them next to the bed, he said. He was wearing basketball shorts and a grey vest, but removed the vest and put it on top of his legs.
Steenkamp was sitting up, the television was on, and she was looking at cars on her cell phone online. He had his head on her stomach and was starting to fall asleep. He said that she told him she would bring the fans inside.
A while later she asked if he was battling to sleep and he said he was. He eventually got up and moved the fans, closed the doors, locked them and drew the curtains. He could not remember whether or not he had shut the blinds. Then he heard the bathroom window opening and froze. He said he immediately thought it was a burglar and knew he needed to get his gun to “protect Reeva and I.”
His voice trembling, he said that he had grabbed his firearm from under the bed and made his way towards the bathroom. He wanted to get between the intruder and Reeva, he said. Overcome with fear, he started shouting and screaming for the intruder to get out of his house, and for Reeva to get down on the floor and to call the police. He said he believed that this person or people could come after him at any time.
At this point he also heard a door slam and realized it could only have been the toilet door. This, he maintained, confirmed that there were people, or a person, in the toilet. He stopped shouting because he did not want the intruder/s to know where he was.
Various photographs were shown to Pistorius to identify where he was during this time. Body photographs of Steenkamp were shown by mistake, resulting in him retching again, head in hands, slumped forward in his seat while Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp lent forward, bowing her head. He identified photographs of the closet “passage” between his bedroom and the bathroom, as well as the open bathroom window before the court adjourned.
The Final Moments of Reeva Steenkamp’s Life
He could see that the window was open and he “scuffled” slowly along the wall with his left hand against the cupboards. He could also see that the toilet door was shut.
Realizing that there was nobody there who was going to attack him, he said he started screaming again for Reeva to call the police. His eyes, he said, were going between the window and the toilet because he was not sure if someone would come out of the toilet and attack him, or come up the ladder and into the bathroom.
Then he heard a noise from inside the toilet which he “perceived to be someone coming out of the toilet … and before I knew it I had fired four shots.”
He said his ears were ringing and he could not hear anything. He went back to bedroom still shouting for Reeva. That was when he first thought it could be Reeva in the bathroom, he said. He “retreated back to the bedroom” and tried to lift himself up while talking to Reeva. When nobody responded, and he could not feel anyone on the bed, he thought she might be on the floor. He said he could not remember what he said, but that he kept his firearm pointing at the passage.
Then it “dawned on me” that it could be Reeva in the toilet, although he did not want to believe it.
He said he tried to grab the handle of the toilet door and push the door open. Then he ran back to the room (still on his stumps) and opened the curtains. He shouted from the balcony for help: “Help, help, help.”
Then he put prosthetic legs on, ran back to the bathroom and tried to kick the door down, but nothing happened. At this point he panicked and did not know what to do. He ran back to the bedroom to get the cricket bat and said he was screaming and shouting and crying out the whole time. He had never screamed or cried like that before – and had been screaming “for the Lord” to help him.
Uncertain of exactly what had happened, he said he “must have” placed his firearm on the carpet. The light was on at this stage. He started hitting the door – three times. He hit the frame first, just wanting to be able to look inside.
His voice was breaking at this stage, and he was sniffing loudly after describing how he shot Reeva. His sister Aimee was also crying. Once Pistorius got through the door, he said he “sat over Reeva and cried;” she was not breathing. Then he started sobbing loudly and was unable to talk. He began to wail loudly, rocking gently backwards and forwards. While the sobs and wails in court got louder, it was clear there would be another adjournment. After a short break, Roux said he could not expect Oscar Pistorius to continue, and Judge Thokozile Masipa, with agreement from Gerrie Nel the prosecutor, adjourned the case to tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9.30.
By Penny Swift