PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — An emotional Oscar Pistorius began testifying in his murder trial with an apology to the family of Reeva Steenkamp, the girlfriend he killed last year in his home.
Pistorius took the stand in a South African court Monday and said: "There hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family."
The double-amputee athlete said he wanted to protect Steenkamp. He has said he killed her by mistake; prosecutors say he killed her after an argument.
Pistorius also said he is taking anti-depressant medicine and that he has sometimes woken up in terror, suffering from panic attacks.
Before Pistorius' dramatic testimony, his defense called a pathologist in an effort to cast doubt on the prosecution's assertion that Steenkamp ate no more than two hours before the double-amputee runner killed her.
The testimony by Prof. Jan Botha was critical to the defense because Pistorius has claimed the couple was in his bedroom by 10 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2013, and any indication that they were awake much later could undermine the Olympian's account of the sequence of events. Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp after 3 a.m. the next morning, saying he mistook her for an intruder in his home. The prosecution has argued that he intentionally killed her after an argument.
Botha said the time frame of digestion was difficult to assess because of variations in many factors, including the volume of food consumed, its caloric content and the psychology of the person who was eating. The testimony countered statements by a pathologist called by the prosecution who said that, judging by the food contents in her stomach, Steenkamp probably last ate no more than two hours before her death.
Botha's testimony followed four weeks of prosecution-led testimony and a week's adjournment after one of the judge's aides fell ill. He was allowed to take the stand first and ahead of Pistorius in an agreement with prosecutors because of a family illness. Defendants who choose to testify normally go first in South Africa.
Pistorius is expected to testify after Botha and explain his version that he killed Steenkamp by mistake on Valentine's Day last year. He is charged with premeditated murder for the nighttime killing and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Defense lawyer Barry Roux said he would call between 14 and 17 witnesses.