PRETORIA (Reuters) – South African Paralympic and Olympic track star Oscar Pistorius returned to court on Monday for the resumption of his murder trial, with the defense calling Johan Stander, the manager of his up-market Pretoria housing complex, as a witness.
Stander, who lived near Pistorius in the Silverwoods estate, was the first person on the scene after the 27-year-old shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Feb. 14 – Valentine’s Day – last year.
Taking the stand, Stander told the court that he received a phone call from a distressed Pistorius in the middle of the night, saying he had killed 29-year-old law graduate and model Steenkamp by mistake.
“Oom (Uncle) Johan, please, please come to my house. I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder. Please, please come quickly,” he quoted Pistorius as telling him in a phone conversation minutes after the shooting.
Stander also testified about previous break-ins at the estate but was forced to admit under cross-examination that it was “generally a safe place”.
Pistorius’ defense hinges on his assertion that he heard a noise in the middle of the night and thought it was an intruder climbing into the bathroom adjoining his bedroom.
When he heard another noise coming from the toilet he fired four shots through the door, thinking one or more intruders was behind it. Steenkamp, who was hit by at least three of the four hollow-point rounds fired, died almost instantly.
If convicted of murder, Pistorius faces life in prison.
The trial, which was adjourned on April 17 to allow prosecutors to deal with other cases on their books, has drawn huge interest both in South Africa and abroad.
Before the shooting, Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, was one of the most recognized names in athletics, competing against able-bodied sprinters on carbon-fibre prosthetics.
Besides a clutch of Paralympic medals, he reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the London 2012 Olympics.
(Reporting By Nomatter Ndebele; Editing by Ed Cropley)