PRETORIA, South Africa — An emotional Oscar Pistorius began testifying in his murder trial today, apologizing to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he killed last year.
Pistorius said he is on anti-depressant medicine and has sometimes woken up in terror because of the trauma of the shooting.
“There hasn’t been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven’t thought about your family,” the double-amputee runner said when he took the stand. “I wake up every morning and you’re the first people I think of, the first people I pray for.”
Pistorius, who has said he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by accident after mistaking her for an intruder, also said: “I was simply trying to protect Reeva.”
He said Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, felt loved when she went to bed on the night he killed her. Prosecutors alleged he killed her in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, and have sought to paint him as a hothead with an inflated sense of entitlement and a love of firearms.
Pistorius said he “had tried to put my words on paper many times” and said he had been on medication since shortly after the killing and has difficulty sleeping.
He described one episode in which he woke up in a panic.
“I climbed into a cupboard and I phoned my sister to come and sit by me, which she did for a while,” he said.
“I’m just in a complete state of terror,” he said. “I fall asleep and wake up like that.”
He spoke in a soft, quavering voice while making his apology and describing what he said was his fragile state. At one point, Judge Thokozile Masipa asked him to speak more loudly.
Later, Pistorius grew more settled and confident as defense lawyer Barry Roux led him through questions about his childhood, his athletics career and how he overcame his disability to run at top track meets. Pistorius's life story is one that impressed many people around the world, before he killed Steenkamp.
Pistorius also described the positive affect his mother Sheila has on his life after he was born with a congenital condition and had to have his lower legs amputated when he was 11 months old, and the grief he felt at her death when he was a teenager.
But he also described how as a family they had “security concerns” and his mother slept with a gun under a pillow on her bed.
He was asked by Roux to talk about a 2009 boat crash when he suffered serious facial injuries.
He said the accident had a “massive impact,” causing him to become fearful, withdrawn, more vigilant about personal safety and more focused on his sporting career.
He denied media reports at the time that he had been drinking alcohol before the boat accident.
Pistorius has been charged with premeditated murder. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of that charge.