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  • 8 April 2014, 5:32

Pistorius Slumps In Dock After Giving Evidence

Oscar Pistorius apologised to the family of Reeva Steenkamp before slumping in the dock unable to continue with his evidence.

Pistorius wept and trembled his way through his first day of testimony, describing how panic attacks had left him hiding in cupboards since the shooting.

He returns to the dock later after telling the court he woke "smelling blood", was unable to sleep and was on anti-depressants and sedatives. 

And in dramatic scenes in Pretoria, the day ended early with Pistorius sitting on the floor of the dock with his psychologist wiping away tears and stroking his face.

The athlete's family formed a protective shield around him as he composed himself before eventually leaving the building.

Reporting from the court, Sky's Alex Crawford said: "The psychologist was comforting him - like a mother would do to a child."

Moments earlier, the court hearing had been adjourned for the day after Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed that Pistorius was "exhausted", having not slept. 

This morning, Pistorius cried as he turned towards Reeva's mother June and apologised for all the hurt he had caused her. 

His voice cracking, he said: "I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Reeva's family, to those of you who knew her who are here today, to her friends.

"There hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family."

Pistorius shook as he described panic attacks and nightmares, while Ms Steenkamp's relatives listened intently in the public gallery.

Members of Pistorius's family - including his brother and sister - also wept as the athlete gave evidence during an emotion-charged morning.  

Almost inaudible at times, the Paralympian was asked to speak up by the judge so that the court could hear him.

Continuing to address June Steenkamp, he said: "I wake up every morning and you're the first people I think of. The first people I pray for.

"I can't imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I've caused you and your family.

"I was simply trying to protect Reeva. I can promise you that when she went to bed that night she felt loved.

"I have tried to put my words on paper many, many times to write to you but no words would ever suffice."

June Steenkamp did no show any emotion as the defendant made the apology. 

Pistorius said he was taking anti-depressant medicine and that he has sometimes woken up in terror, suffering from panic attacks.

"I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night," he said.

"I wake up and I can smell blood and I wake up to being terrified. I hear a noise and I wake up in a complete state of terror, to the point that I would rather not sleep." 

He described how, on one occasion, he woke in panic and had to ring a family member for help.

"I climbed into a cupboard and I phoned my sister to come and sit by me, which she did for a while," he said.

He described how important his Christian religion had been to him as he struggled to come to terms with the death of his girlfriend.

"When I met Reeva - I always wanted to have a girlfriend who was Christian," Pistorius said.

"She would pray for me at night. We would pray before we would eat.

"It is what has got me through this last year - I have been struggling a lot." 

He later outlined the story of his Paralympian success - describing how he had overcome disadvantages to excel in athletics.

He also told how he and his family had been the victim of several break-ins and other criminal activity.

On one occasion he was shot at and also followed home.

Pistorius told the court that on another occasion he helped a man who was being beaten with rocks on the highway.

The court was told that Pistorius drew his firearm and called the emergency services but was later assaulted after receiving threats.

He suffered a black eye and stitches in his head. 

Before taking to the stand the Paralympian "heaved and retched" as he prepared to explain for the first time in public how and why he killed his girlfriend.

His testimony may take several days and he can expect a gruelling cross-examination from state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

Earlier this morning, the athlete bent down in the dock, plugging his ears with his fingers, as more details about Ms Steenkamp's death were revealed in court.

He was also seen hunched and weeping before the first witness of the defence case - pathologist Professor Jan Botha - was called.

Then, before the mid-morning break, he was led from the court in a distressed state, as he prepared himself to give evidence. 

Sky's Alex Crawford, reporting from the court, said that Pistorius was "literally heaving, retching" before the mid-morning break.

He was escorted out of the court amid "audible sobs", by his psychologist and family members.  

Professor Botha was allowed to testify first, and ahead of Pistorius, in an agreement with prosecutors because of a family illness.

Contradicting the state's account, Professor Botha said Ms Steenkamp may not have had a chance to scream when she was being shot.

The pathologist testified that if the athlete fired his 9mm pistol in two quick bursts, as Pistorius claims he did, his girlfriend probably didn't have time to cry out.

The testimony contradicts prosecutors' claims that Ms Steenkamp screamed during the gunshots and that the athlete therefore must have known he was firing at her.

Professor Botha said that Ms Reevekamp was first shot in the hip, then in the arm, with the third bullet hitting her hand and the fourth her head.