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


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?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back