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  • 8 April 2014, 8:05

Pistorius Apologises But Ordeal Has Just Begun

Finally, the words those in court GD have been waiting to hear for a month now. "I call Mr Pistorius."

And with that, Barry Roux summoned his client to the witness stand and Oscar Pistorius began his very personal fight to stay out of jail.

No-one who has sat through the athlete vomiting and sobbing as he heard graphic details of Reeva Steenkamp's injuries can have been surprised that the runner almost immediately began crying on entering the witness box.

He first turned to the mother of the woman he shot and killed - and in a trembling voice apologised for what he had done on Valentine's Day morning last year.

If June Steenkamp was in any way moved by this, she did not show it.

She sat unflinching as the athlete said he had only been trying to protect her daughter when he fired four hollow-tipped bullets through his toilet door.

"I can promise you," he told his girlfriend's mother, "When she went to bed that night, she felt loved."

The athlete's quiet voice was almost drowned out by the hum of typing as the court benches, jammed with journalists from around the world, documented his every syllable.

The judge, and even his own defence counsel, urged him to talk up several times. This was the defence building the backbone of its case.

Oscar Pistorius was a flawed human being, a boy born with physical disadvantages which left him vulnerable and scared as an adult.

We heard how he had been battling all his life.

How his upbringing was anything but ordinary with bullying at school because of his prosthetics, parents which divorced when he was just six and a mother who died horribly early when just in her 40s and when he was still a teenager.

His siblings wept with him as he described how he only found out his mother was ill when she had already lapsed into a coma.

Aside from his physical differences - and he told how he felt "shy and embarrassed" about taking off his prosthetics - ("they're a part of my body and I don't like to be without them",) he also talked about his constant fear of crime in South Africa.

It was a fear apparently passed onto him from his mother who, left alone after her divorce, kept a gun in a padded bag under her pillow.

The runner spent just 90 minutes on his first day in the witness box - giving evidence about his childhood, his upbringing, his fight to prove he did not have any advantage over his rivals by running on blades, and his extreme fear about violent crime.

By the end of that he was so emotionally spent his lawyer asked for an adjournment.

Even the judge admitted the athlete looked exhausted.

He seemed to be yawning at times and as soon as the cameras were switched off and the court rose for the day, he collapsed, sobbing as his siblings rushed to comfort him.

He moved to the floor of the witness box, sitting at the foot of the box's swivel chair and wept continuously.

By this time, his psychologist was with him, stroking his face as his extended family formed a physical shield around him and tried to help him compose himself in order to walk out to his waiting car and the refuge of his uncle's home.

And this is just the start.

He has yet to face the fierce cross examination of the prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

He will have to answer key questions about how he managed to avoid noticing that Reeva Steenkamp was not sleeping when he went to retrieve his pistol from her side of the bed and how he fired shots into the toilet without finding out who was in there.

Plus, he will have to give his own account of how he reacted when he bashed down the toilet door and saw his girlfriend with horrific injuries and breathing her last few breaths.

Oscar Pistorius is likely to be in the witness box for most of the week - and maybe beyond - as he tries to persuade the judge he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder and the shooting was a tragic accident.

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