Oscar Pistorius trial: The most harrowing day so far as athlete breaks down in the witness box describing the night Reeva Steenkamp died

Trial adjourned as court rules accused is in no state to continue

Pretoria

Primeval howls reverberated around a harrowed and transfixed court room as Oscar Pistorius tried but ultimately failed to describe the panic stricken moments that ended the life of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and changed his life forever.

“She wasn’t breathing!” he said, or rather wailed, of the moment he finally discovered her body, slumped on the toilet floor, before his head crashed into his hands, and he slumped forward, emitting long harrowing moans that called forth his lawyers, his tear-strewn family and his psychologist, who rushed to the witness box and moved in a flurry around him. The court was adjourned, temporarily at first, eventually for the day, when it was clear the accused was in no state to continue.

It has taken five and a half weeks to reach only Day 17 of the Paralympic Champion’s murder trial. It was, by some margin, the most dramatic and traumatic so far.

The broad outline of what Pistorius claims happened in his home in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year is well known - that he mistook the sound of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his locked toilet cubicle for a potentially volatile intruder, and fired four shots through the door, that would turn out to be fatal.

It is a story seemingly riddled with inconsistency and unlikelihood, but the new details that were revealed as a deeply distressed Pistorius recounted events at great length were as compelling to hear as they were upsetting.

Ms Steenkamp was awake, he said, when in the middle of the night, walking on his stumps, he brought two fans in from the balcony. They pair had just spoken.

“I heard the window opening in the bathroom,” he said. The sliding window hit against the edge, indicating it could open no further. “That is the moment that everything changed.”

As he spoke he was not wearing his now customary dark suit and tie, but rather a sports top and shorts. Moments before, he had removed his prosthetic legs, revealed his stumps to the court, and walked briefly in a line, next to the same bathroom door, which has been exhibited in court for more than a month now, to demonstrate his poor balance and mobility whilst on them.

This was the man, the Blade Runner, who so memorably came flying around the top bend of the London Olympic track and into the history books two summers ago. Yet his legs are skinny taper, almost to a point. He moved like a new born deer.

“I froze. I didn't know what to do,” he said, holding back tears. “I was looking down the passage scared at the person was going to come out. I grabbed firearm from underneath the bed. I wanted to get back to where passage was. To get myself between the person or people, and Reeva. I whispered for Reeva to get down. I shouted for the people to get out. I shouted for Reeva to phone the police.

“I made my way down the passage. I was constantly aware this person could come at me any time. I didn't have my legs on. Then I stopped shouting. I was worried that if I shouted the person would know exactly where I was. That I could get shot.

“Then I heard a noise from inside the toilet that I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet. Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door."

"I wasn't sure where to point the firearm," he said. "My eyes were going between the windows and the toilet. I stood for some time.

"I just stayed where I was and kept on screaming. Then I heard a noise from inside the toilet that I perceived to be somebody coming out of the toilet. Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door."

At this point, he said, his ears were ringing, and he couldn’t hear anything. “I didn’t know if someone else would come in through the window to attack Reeva and I. I called out to Reeva, but I couldn’t hear anything.”

On returning to the pitch dark bedroom, where the blackout curtains were closed, he wondered if Reeva was hiding, and “I ran my hand along the length of the curtain to see if she was behind there.”

Reeva Steenkamp’s mother June looked on, stony-faced and transfixed, as he told the court how he hit the door with a cricket bat, desperate to see inside.

“I screamed Help! Help! Help!,” he said. "I don't think I've ever screamed like that. I was crying out for Reeva. I was crying out for the Lord to help me. I didn't want to believe it could be Reeva inside the toilet.

"I hit the door and a small piece opened. All I wanted to do was look inside and see if it was Reeva.”

A long plank of the door came away, which Pistorius threw into the bathroom.

“I lent over the partition. I saw the key on the floor. I unlocked the door. I flung it open. I sat over Reeva and I cried. I don't know how long I was there for.”

It was then that he tried to say she wasn’t breathing, but failed, and the howling began, and the court adjourned.

If the grief and the remorse were an act, Pistorius is a talent indeed, but grief and remorse do not necessarily intimate guilt or innocence.

On Wednesday, the State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel is likely to begin cross-examining Mr Pistorius, and he is likely to show no remorse himself, in focusing on the inconsistencies in the Pistorius account that still arguably remain. Why are his neighbours convinced they heard a woman screaming? Why had he fired four shots through the door “before he knew it”, and heard no sound from Reeva to intimate she had been shot, first in the hip, and then the arm, before the fatal headshot?

After five at times painstaking weeks, there can be no doubt that the rather crassly dubbed ‘trial of the century’ has finally reached the heart of the matter.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant -Engineering -Renewable Energy

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map