PRETORIA, South Africa – As the girlfriend he shot in the head lay dead or dying in his home, a weeping, praying Oscar Pistorius knelt at her side and struggled in vain to help her breathe by holding two fingers in her clenched mouth, a witness testified Thursday at the double-amputee runner’s murder trial.
I shot her. I thought she was a burglar. I shot her, radiologist Johan Stipp, a neighbor, recalled Pistorius saying. The worried neighbor had entered Pistorius’ home after hearing screams. By that time, the celebrated athlete had carried Reeva Steenkamp’s bloodied body downstairs following the fatal nighttime shooting in his bathroom.
A few minutes after he arrived, Stipp said, Pistorius went back upstairs – the area where he had shot the 29-year-old model – and returned. At that point, Stipp said he was concerned that the gun used in the shooting had not been recovered and that a distraught Pistorius was going to harm himself.
Stipp’s account in a Pretoria court was the first detailed, public description of the immediate aftermath of the shooting in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year.
Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder after shooting Steenkamp three times out of four shots through the toilet door. Prosecutors are trying to build a case that the Olympian intentionally killed Steenkamp after a loud quarrel.
At his bail hearing last year, Pistorius said in a statement read by his lawyer that after he realized he had shot Steenkamp, thinking mistakenly that she was an intruder, he pulled on his prosthetic legs and tried to kick down the toilet door. He said he finally gave up and bashed the door in with a cricket bat.
Inside, he said he found Steenkamp, slumped over but still alive. He said he lifted her body and carried her downstairs to seek medical help.
On Thursday, as Stipp recalled the sometimes grisly details through questioning by the prosecutor, Pistorius bent forward on the wooden court bench and put his hand over his face. Clutching what appeared to be black rosary beads, Pistorius then moved his hands to cover both ears as Stipp described the scene sometime after 3 a.m. at the athlete’s villa.
Pistorius stayed that way for a while in the courtroom, even when one of his lawyers reached back and touched him on the head in an apparent gesture of reassurance.
Oscar was crying all the time, Stipp continued. He was praying to God, Please let her live.’ Oscar said he would dedicate his life and her life to God if she would live, Stipp said.
The chief defense lawyer, Barry Roux, asked Stipp whether he thought Pistorius’ emotions as the runner knelt next to Steenkamp were genuine. Stipp said he thought they were.
He looked sincere to me, Stipp said of observing Pistorius minutes after he’d fatally shot his girlfriend. He was crying. There were tears on his face.