Emotional Pistorius testifies in his murder trial

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Oscar Pistorius holds his head  in court on the third day of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Hutchings-Pool)

Oscar Pistorius holds his head in court on the third day of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Mike Hutchings-Pool)

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.

His  defense team opened its case Monday by trying to poke holes in the prosecution’s premeditated murder charge against the double-amputee Olympian.

A pathologist called as the first defense witness testified that if the athlete fired his 9 mm pistol in two quick bursts, as Pistorius claims he did, his girlfriend probably didn’t have time to scream.

Prof. Jan Botha’s testimony is important for Pistorius’ defense because it combats prosecutors’ claims that Steenkamp screamed during the gunshots that killed her and that the athlete therefore must have known he was firing at her.

Botha said he believed that before Steenkamp was able to react to the first shot through a toilet door that hit her in the hip, “the remaining bullets would have struck her.”

“If the shots were fired in rapid sequence, and these four shots could have easily been fired in four seconds, I think it’s highly unlikely that she would have called out,” Botha testified.

Pistorius’ lawyers say he shot in two quick double-tap bursts.

Charged with premeditated murder in Steenkamp’s shooting death, Pistorius pleaded not guilty and says he shot his girlfriend by mistake through the toilet cubicle door thinking she was a dangerous intruder hiding in his bathroom.

Witnesses say they heard a woman screaming before and during the gunshots that killed Steenkamp, bolstering the prosecution’s claim that the runner and his lover fought in the pre-dawn hours before he killed her, which Pistorius denies. He says he was the only one to scream on the night.

Pathologist Jan Botha’s testimony contradicted parts of the evidence given by state pathologist Gert Saayman and police ballistics expert Christiaan Mangena, and came under fiery cross-examination by chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel, the first time Nel has cross-examined a witness in the trial.

During some of the pathologist’s testimony, Pistorius sat hunched over with his hands over his head in the courtroom as details of Steenkamp’s injuries were again aired. At times, his body shook.

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