Oscar Pistorius walked into a Pretoria courtroom on Tuesday wearing gym shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He was about to testify at his trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp; this was the outfit that he wore when he shot her four times through an inner door to the toilet in his bathroom. A model of that door was set up in the courtroom, and Pistorius’s lawyer, Barry Roux, told him to stand next to it. Then he told him to take off his prosthetic legs. Pistorius sat down and did, exposing the stumps left after he underwent a double amputation as a toddler. “He balance[s] himself and walks awkwardly [two] paces to door, then stands solemnly by it,” Andrew Harding, of the BBC, wrote on his invaluable Twitter feed. Roux wanted to show that Pistorius was littler than he had looked before, and more vulnerable. This was his second day of testimony, and the seventeenth of a trial in which Pistorius’s vulnerability and fear have been the defense’s main themes.
The point of the shorts and the T-shirt had been to show what he had been wearing that night—actually the early-morning hours of Valentine’s Day—when, he claims, he mistook the sound of Steenkamp in the bathroom for that of an intruder, and killed her while thinking he was protecting her. Pistorius’s exposure of his body was familiar, in a way, from a hundred scenes of him running in sprinter’s gear in the Paralympic and Olympic Games, with prosthetic legs replaced by racing blades. According to the BBC, the sight of him in the courtroom, that picture altered, produced gasps.
The reconstruction of Pistorius’s walk to the door omitted the 9mm pistol he’d had in his hand, which was loaded with the sort of bullets that expand when they enter soft tissue, to cause the maximum injury. He has become physically ill more than once, in the two weeks of the trial so far, when confronted with pictures of or testimony about what those bullets did to Steenkamp’s body. “I’m scared to sleep, for several reasons,” he said on Monday, his first day of testimony, after apologizing to the Steenkamp family. “I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night where I wake up, and I smell, I can smell the blood. And I wake up to being terrified.”
On Monday, he also talked about being a scared child: bullies, his mother’s death. His testimony on Tuesday was about his own terror the night that Steenkamp died: hearing the sound in the bathroom; getting the pistol from under his bed—one of the many oddities of Pistorius’s story is that he says that, on his stumps, he felt his way around the bed and retrieved the pistol but did not check whether or register that Steenkamp had gotten up. He says that he went to the bathroom, walking on his stumps, and saw a window open: “I wasn’t sure where to point my firearm. I had it pointed at the toilet, but my eyes were going between the window and the toilet. … Then I heard a noise from inside the toilet. …Before I knew it, I fired four shots at the door.” It only “dawned upon me” that Steenkamp might be in the bathroom, he said, after he went back to the bed and put his legs on.
“I was screaming and shouting the whole time. I don’t think I have ever screamed or cried like that. I was crying out to the Lord to help me, I was crying out to Reeva, I was screaming.” (Earlier, he had testified that he was glad that Steenkamp was a good Christian and prayed for him each night.) He described kicking the door with his prosthetics, then getting a cricket bat and knocking it down, and then seeing her: “She wasn’t breathing.” That was where his testimony ended for the day. The trial is televised, but the witnesses, as Pippa Green explained in a piece on what has become known as the Oscar Trial Channel, can choose not to have their faces shown, so the video, for most of the time, showed the judge, Thokozile Masipa, turned toward the stand, or else panned the faces of the spectators: Pistorius’s family, also tremulous, and Steenkamp’s parents, still and drained. Pistorius testified about how, during his night terrors in the past few months, his sister came to comfort him. When he finally broke down and Masipa called an adjournment, she rushed up to the witness box. Roux told the judge that he couldn’t ask Pistorius to go on: “His shirt is soaking wet.” Roux suggested that it had been drenched by tears.
But what was Steenkamp scared of that night? When did she know to be scared? One reason for Pistorius’s testimony about his own screams—“I don’t think I have ever screamed or cried like that”—would have been the memories of other witnesses that they heard a woman crying out. Before he talked about his gun and his fear of intruders, Pistorius was asked to address texts and chats from Steenkamp in which he was the frightening one. “I do everything to make you happy and to not say anything to rock the boat with u. You do everything to throw tantrums in front of people,” she wrote to him in a long WhatsApp chat message, two and a half weeks before he killed her. “I’m scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me.” She wrote the message after a party, “one of my best friend’s engagements.” She had been talking to the husband of one of her friends; Pistorius said in his testimony that he had made his “presence known” but that she wasn’t quick enough to introduce him. Steenkamp wrote, “I was not flirting with anyone today. I feel sick that you suggested that and that you made a scene at the table and made us leave early.”
I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying. I touch your neck to show u I care and you tell me to stop. Stop chewing gum. Do this don’t do that. You don’t want to hear stuff cut me off. Your endorsements your reputation your impression of someone innocent blown out of proportion and f***ed up a special day for me.
When he testified about the texts, Pistorius talked about them as capturing “a bad day in our relationship” that had been “resolved,” although, he granted, “I wasn’t kind to her like I should have been.” He said it helped that she subsequently mastered the details of his training regimen and strict diet, and was committed to accommodating him. He said that there were loving texts, too, and there were, plenty. Perhaps he is telling the truth about everything that night; still, as I’ve written before, love and deep regret, and awful pain, are not incompatible with murder. (Or with one of the lesser charges for which Pistorius may be liable, under South African law, for firing a gun at anyone unknown through a closed door.) And he explained the painful messages in the same terms that he did Steenkamp’s shooting: as expressions of his own heartfelt fear. He was “insecure.” He was “sensitive.” She was talking to “a gentleman unknown to me”—the threatening stranger. In another text, less than a week before she died, Steenkamp described how he blew up at her at an event that they attended.
I also knew people there tonight and whilst you were having one or two pics taken I was saying goodbye to the people in my industry and Fitz wanted a photo with me. … I didn’t think you would criticize me for doing that especially not so loudly so that others could hear.
The way to avoid Pistorius’s tantrums seems to have been for Steenkamp not to talk to her friends, not to make Pistorius scared that she might have someone else or some way out. Trying to keep the peace, to avoid abuse and tantrums, can demand a wary lonesomeness. She didn’t owe him or anyone that. “I might joke around and be all Tom boyish at times but I regard myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one tonight after the way you treated me when we left,” she wrote in the later text. “I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”
That last phrase is ambiguous: “the one person I deserve protection from.” By “from” she presumably meant that he should provide the protection—“Whom I deserve to have protect me”—not that she deserved to be protected from him. But maybe, in her imperfect late-night texting, Steenkamp got it right. Why, when a man raises an alarm about his security, does a woman get shot dead?
His testimony has been a mess this week. He's definitely lying on the stand. He seems to know really in depth detail about certain things and then falls on his lack of recollection when questioned about other aspects. He's also backtracked on what he's said from the previously. He also blamed his legal team for telling him that having his fathers gun was legal, when they didn't say anything like that.