Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, May 5, 2014. Pistorius' murder trial enters a critical phase Monday as his defense team attempts to recover from a faltering start and reinforce the disabled athlete's claim that he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp by mistake because he was overwhelmed by a long-held fear of violent crime. Themba Hadebe/Associated Press
A neighbour and friend of Oscar Pistorius testified Monday that the double-amputee athlete was "torn apart" and desperately trying to save Reeva Steenkamp minutes after fatally shooting her at his home last year.
Johan Stander and his daughter were at Pistorius' house soon after the shooting in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, and Stander testified that he believed that the Olympian had made a mistake when he shot and killed Steenkamp because of the runner's emotional state when they found him.
"I saw the truth there that morning. I saw it and I felt it," Stander testified, saying Pistorius was "really crying. He was in pain."
Stander was the fourth witness called by the defence and took the stand as the globally televised trial resumed after a two-week recess and moved into its seventh week.
Pistorius' defence was attempting to present a scenario of Pistorius' desperate panic at shooting his girlfriend in error through a toilet door after thinking she was a dangerous intruder, as he claims. Prosecutors maintain Pistorius is lying and his story is designed to cover up that he shot the model and reality TV star intentionally in the midst of a heated nighttime argument.
Outside the trial, Zethu Cataka told a CBC reporter she left work to make a small show of support for Reeva Steenkamp today. She said too much focus has been on Pistorius, leaving Steenkamp forgotten. The trial, she says, has captivated all South Africans: "If it wasn't so sad, I'd say it was fascinating."
The 27-year-old Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion and the first amputee to run at the Olympics, faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted on the premeditated murder charge.
He slumped forward at one point Monday with his head in his hands as details of what may have been Steenkamp's last moments alive were discussed.
Stander's testimony on the 26th day of the trial followed a shaky start by Pistorius' defence, where his story of an accidental killing came under scrutiny as he was cross-examined by chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel who tried to expose holes in his account of the events of that night. Two defence experts also had their evidence undermined by Nel.
'Torn apart, broken'
Stander became emotional at one point as he described what he said was Pistorius's "committed" attempt to save Steenkamp's life as she lay on the floor of his Pretoria villa. Stander's daughter Carice Viljoen, who also testified Monday, cried as she testified that she tried to stop the bleeding from a gunshot wound in Steenkamp's arm.
Steenkamp had been shot in the hip, arm and head by Pistorius through the stall door in his upstairs bathroom minutes earlier.
Stander said Pistorius "was asking God to help him. He was torn apart, broken, desperate, pleading. It's difficult really to describe."
Stander lived in the same gated community as Pistorius and was once on the estate's management committee. He said that he received a telephone call from Pistorius at 3:18 or 3:19 a.m., minutes after the shooting, and the world-famous runner pleaded with him to come to his home and help.
"He (Pistorius) said on the call, 'Johan, please, please, please come to my house. Please. I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder. Please come quick,"' Stander recounted.
'Here to give the truth'
Cross-examining Stander, prosecutor Nel asked if he was a good friend of Pistorius and trying to "assist" the defence. Stander said he had known Pistorius since 2009 and often looked after his home and dogs when the athlete was away competing.
"I'm here to give the truth," Stander replied. "And I think I've given the truth. What I saw that morning."
Nel also pushed Stander on why he said he presumed that Pistorius had made a mistake when Pistorius had not used the word on the phone call. Stander said it was his "understanding" that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp in error.
Stander said he and his daughter found Pistorius carrying Steenkamp down the stairs of his upscale villa when they went in.
"It's not something I would like to experience again, my lady," Stander said, addressing the judge who will deliver a verdict in the trial. "Because that young man walking down the stairs with the lady, with a young woman. His face. The expression of pain, the expression of sorrow. And he's crying."
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