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TEARFUL PISTORIUS DESCRIBES FEAR, SHOOTING OF GIRLFRIEND

He testifies of grabbing a gun after hearing noises inside his home.

New York Times

PRETORIA, South Africa - It was the kind of flourish more often seen in courtroom dramas than in real-life murder trials. In the middle of his emotional and harrowing testimony Tuesday, the champion sprinter Oscar Pistorius stood up in full view of the packed courtroom, removed his prosthetic legs, and demonstrated how very vulnerable and exposed he can be.

The moment came on a grueling day in which a shaky, tearful Pistorius for the first time gave a full account of what he says happened the night he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. And it went toward bolstering the case the defense is trying to make: that Pistorius, the world's most celebrated disabled athlete, is at the same time an anxious and physically fragile man who sprayed bullets through the door of his bathroom because he believed someone had broken into his house.

"I was overcome with fear," he said of the moment he says he heard noises coming from outside his bedroom early on Feb. 14, 2013.

It was a hot night, Pistorius testified, and his air conditioning wasn't working. He woke up during the night, spoke to Steenkamp and then, without turning on the lights or putting on his prosthetic legs, went to the balcony next to his bedroom, he said.

Then, he said, he heard a noise.

"My lady, that's the moment that everything changed," he told Judge Thokozile Masipa. "I thought that a burglar had entered my home. Initially I froze. I didn't know what to do. The first thing that ran through my mind is that I needed to protect myself, that I needed to protect Reeva and I."

Pistorius is accused of murdering Steenkamp by shooting her four times in a fit of violent rage. If convicted of the most serious of the charges, he faces at least 25 years in prison.

He says it was a tragic mistake, that he grabbed his gun from under the bed and went in search of intruders.

Even under mild questioning by his defense lawyer, Barry Roux, Pistorius stuttered, paused, cried and lowered his voice to a whisper. And when he got to the part of his story where he fired through the bathroom door he began weeping.

His lack of composure Tuesday does not augur well for how he will stand up under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, who is known for his aggressive, unforgiving questioning.

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