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Pistorius Trial Adjourns Early For Day Amid Runner's Sobs


In South Africa today, the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius was adjourned early for the day after the Paralympic athlete broke down weeping on the witness stand. It was his second day of testimony and the first time he had publically recounted details of the night he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He claims he thought she was an intruder.

Led by his lawyer, Pistorius described the moment he realized he had shot Steenkamp and found her body behind the door of his toilet cubicle.

OSCAR PISTORIUS: And I stepped over Reeva and I cried and I don't know. I don't know how long. I don't know how long I was there for. She wasn't breathing.

BLOCK: And his wails grew louder after that. The Guardian's David Smith was live-tweeting from the courtroom and he wrote that it was probably the most wrenching moment of the trial so far. David joins me now. David, welcome back to the program.

DAVID SMITH: Thank you.

BLOCK: What was the reaction in court when Oscar Pistorius had that display of emotion and broke down on the witness stand?

SMITH: Everyone was stunned into silence. It was really one of those moments that people there will not forget. The judge very quickly intervened and said, we'll have an adjournment. Pistorius' brother and sister immediately dashed across the room to console him as they have so often, but even then, there were these gut-wrenching moans drifting across the room as we all sat there.

A few minutes later, you know, after Pistorius had left, he actually came back, looked a lot more composed, but his defense counsel said it's just not right to try and carry on with him in this state and so the judge said, yes, let's call it a day about half an hour early and come back tomorrow.

BLOCK: And we should point out that this is not being heard by a jury, right? It is being heard by that judge.

SMITH: That's right. Juries were abolished in South Africa in the 1960s so this is judge-only.

BLOCK: Did it appear to you that this was a genuine outpouring of emotion? I mean, how did that register in the courtroom?

SMITH: Yes. I think it would take a heart of stone to not feel something for him and I noticed many of the journalists afterwards tweeted, look, you know, we might all have different views on him and his sincerity and his story, but, you know, this was not an act. But, you know, the debate has always been what is he feeling sorry for, Reeva Steenkamp or just feeling sorry for himself?

And during one of the adjournments, I spoke to a police investigator on the case who remains utterly convinced that Pistorius committed murder, said he thought there were holes in Pistorius' testimony today. I suspect there's a lot more to be heard in this trial.

BLOCK: David, Oscar Pistorius has told authorities all along that he thought it was an intruder who had broken into his bathroom. Did any new details of that story emerge today from his testimony?

SMITH: It was a broadly similar account from what he's submitted before in written statements, but there were some differences that I suspect the prosecution will pick him up on. That clip you heard there, the final words of his testimony today, which came out in that dreadful sort of half sob, half shout, she wasn't breathing. Well, just over a year ago, at his bail application, when Pistorius described that moment, he actually said she was slumped, but she was still alive. So that may require some clarification.

BLOCK: At one point, Oscar Pistorius' lawyer had him take off his prosthetic legs in court. What was the point of that?

SMITH: That's a very good question and it was certainly another very theatrical spectacle today. Some commentators said later this was frankly just a very blatant attempt by the defense to earn sympathy.

BLOCK: That's correspondent David Smith with The Guardian newspaper. He's covering the trial of Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria, South Africa. David, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.