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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
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

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain