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Oscar Pistorius Murder Trial; Judge Grants Break After Emotional Testimony

Aired April 8, 2014 - 08:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: Oscar Pistorius is on the stand giving his side of the story the night he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Let's go live to the courtroom in South Africa and listen in.

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: That's the entrance of the bathroom. At the end of the passage where I stopped screaming, at this point, I was certain there's an intruder or intruders were in my --

JUDGE: I ask you again to raise up your voice, please?

PISTORIUS: I'm sorry, my lady.

At that point I was entering the bathroom, I was not shouting or screaming, I was -- at that point I thought that the intruder or intruders, were going to come around the corner, can in the bathroom at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at photo 83.

BOLDUAN: All right. If you're joining us just now, we were picking up as the Oscar Pistorius was resuming after a short adjournment. It looks like obviously counsel is discussing this.

To recap what we've been listening to all morning is -- Oscar Pistorius and really the critical moment of this trial taking the stand to give his side of the story. I think it's resuming right now. So let's listen back in.

PISTORIUS: -- to the bathroom, was walking with my left hand against the cabinets, against the closets, as far away from the entrance of the bathroom as I possibly could be. When I got to the point in the bottom right-hand side of the photo, I peered -- I had my right -- my pistol in my right hand and I peered into the bathroom. I then made my way pretty much to where the carpets and the tile meet on the left- hand side where the arrow is.

The surface changed, and where I can walk more comfortably on the carpet, I wasn't able to walk as there's not much mobility on the tile surfaces. I kept my left hand behind me and my shoulder against the wall, and I had my pistol raised to my eye, to the corner of the entrance of the bathroom. At this point here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could just show the court, perhaps, maybe if I can just ask the assistant, can you demonstrate again, Mr. Pistorius? That they can make just bring that arrow there. There. For a little room.

Have you seen where they were indicating? Is that the exact place?

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady.

There was no lights in the bathroom. I could see, as I slowly peered into the bathroom, I could see that the window was open, indeed.

I was pretty much on my -- went back against the wall with my hand, up against the wall to use as balance. I was leaning with my back slowly scuffling along the left-hand side wall. I wasn't sure if the, if there were people, or intruders were in the toilet or if they were on a ladder that they would have used to gain access to the first floor, or if they were around the corner at that point.

I slid my firearm pointed in front of me and I peered around the corner to look where the shower was, which was around, in the bathroom, in line with the toilet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I show you photo 180.

The shower that you referred to?

PISTORIUS: The top right side of the -- is the shower. I peered around this corner, which is in the bottom right-hand side of the frame. At that point I saw that there was no one in the bathroom. The door was closed with the toilets and the window was open. Once I saw in a there wasn't anybody around the corner waiting to attack me, I retreated a little bit, maybe a step or two back, still with my hand against the walls, I slid my back and my shoulder to help me balance.

At this point I started screaming again for Reeva to phone the police. I wasn't sure where to point the firearm. I had it pointed at the toilet, but my eyes were going between the window and the toilet. I stood there for some time not sure how long.

I wasn't sure somebody was going to come out of the toilet to attack me. I wasn't sure if someone was going to come up the ladder and point a firearm in my house and start shooting, and so I just stayed where I was and I kicked, and screaming, and then I heard a noise from inside the toilet what I perceived to be someone coming out the toilet.

Before I knew it I fired four shots at the door. My ears were ringing. I couldn't hear anything. So I shot -- I kept on shouting for Reeva to phone the police. I was still scared to retreat, because I wasn't sure if there was somebody on the ladder. I wasn't sure if there was somebody in the toilet. I don't know how long I stood there for. I shouted for Reeva. At some point, I decided to -- to walk back to the room, because I couldn't hear anything. My ears were ringing. I couldn't hear if there was a response or not.

I didn't have the phone on me. I walked -- I walked with my hand on the left hand cupboards with my firearm still raised. I kept on shouting for Reeva.

I didn't hear anything. As this point it then occurred to me that yet it could be Reeva in the bathroom. I still thought there would be intruders that were possibly in the toilet, or on the ladder outside the house.

I retreated back to a point where I got to the corner of the bed. My hand out on the bed and I tried to lift myself up. I was talking to Reeva. There was no -- nobody -- no one responded to me.

At that point, I lifted myself up on to the bed and I closed my hand back to the right-hand side of the bed and I looked -- I thought if Reeva was there and I couldn't feel anything, and at that point the first thing I thought was maybe that she got down on to the floor, like I told her to. Maybe she was just scared.

So I said -- I can't remember what I said, but I was trying to talk out to her, and I kept my firearm, the whole time I moved along the bed backwards, I kept my firearm at the passage, there was not much light coming out, but I didn't want to even keep my -- take my eyes off the, where the closet was.

I then -- I think it was at that point, my lady, that -- that it first dawned upon me that it could be Reeva that was in the bathroom, or in the toilet. I jumped out of the other side of the bed and I ran myself along the curtains to see that she wasn't hiding behind the curtain.

I couldn't see much in the room, but I could see where the passage was, and I felt around and made my way back up the passage, I slid my firearm in front of me. At this point, I was mixed with emotions. I didn't know if -- I didn't want to believe that it could be Reeva inside the toilet. I was still scared that maybe somebody was coming in to attack me or us.

I made my way back to, inside the -- inside the bathroom and I walked up to the, up to the bathroom door. I tried to grab the handle and rip open the door, push the door open, and it was locked. I then took -- for the first time I turned around with my back facing the bathroom. I ran back to the room, and I opened the curtains.

I shouted from the balcony, from the doors, and I shouted from the balcony for help, screamed, help, help, help. I screamed for somebody to help me.

And then -- I -- I put my prosthetic legs on. I ran as fast as I could back to the bathroom. I ran into the door. It didn't move at all. I went back and I tried to kick the door. Nothing happened. I was -- I was just panicked at this point. I didn't really know what to make, or what to do. I ran back to the bedroom where the cricket bat was between the cabinets and the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you screaming at that stage?

PISTORIUS: I was screaming and shouting the whole time, crying out. I was -- I didn't think -- I couldn't -- I don't think I've ever screamed like that or cried like that or screamed or -- I was crying out for the lord to help me. I was crying out for Reeva. I was screaming.

I didn't know what to do. I ran straight back to the bathroom door. I placed my firearm -- I remember that I must have placed my firearm on the carpet in the bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if the light was on or off at that stage in the bathroom?

PISTORIUS: The light was on at that stage, my lady. I don't remember switching it on. I remember it being on when I kicked the door. I ran straight up to the door, and I started hitting it. I think I hit it three times, and the first time I hit it, I -- I remember hitting -- I hit the frame of the door, and the shock on my hands. A small piece was open. At that point all I wanted to do was look inside to see if it was Reeva.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I then hit the door. I think I hit the door three times, and it was a big plank. I grabbed it with my hands and I threw it out into the bathroom. I leaned over the middle partition -- I tried to open the door from the inside, but there was no key in the door and I leaned over the middle partition of the door and saw the key was on the floor at that point. All I wanted to do was just climb over the toilet over the middle part of the door.

Once I leaned over the partition to get in, to get the keys I took them and I threw the door open and I sat 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.


JUDGE: We'll take an adjournment.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Right there, the judge just asked for adjournment because Oscar Pistorius, breaking up on the stand, obviously weeping.

We're not seeing the testimony. No defense witness is on camera, but we hear his testimony, and that is interesting in and of itself and a good place to jump off our analysis of what we heard so far.

BOLDUAN: You can hear the wailing in the courtroom.

CUOMO: Sunny Hostin joining us.

Not usual for a judge to call adjournment when someone gets emotional on the stand. Your take?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I've never seen it. I've seen people get emotional on the stand, and the judge said, take a moment, and we continue. I don't think I've ever seen a defendant on the witness stand that weepy, that emotional. That could cut both ways, right?

I think perhaps some sensitivity the judge may feel. Perhaps the judge thinks it's because he's being credible, but perhaps it's because he's a highly volatile, emotional person, prone to outbursts, perhaps someone that sort of flips off, and is capable of losing it and killing someone, because they are in the heat of an argument.

So I'm not sure about the emotion that we're seeing today, and that we've seen.

BOLDUAN: And, yes, because this is the second time she's taken an adjournment because he has broken down.

HOSTIN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: What we've been listening to is him recounting for the families in excruciating detail of what happened that night. None of it is maybe so much a surprise as kind of the record is out there of what he has said.

But what he is trying to establish and what the defense is trying to establish is that he was afraid. He was afraid for his life. He was in a vulnerable position. Is he being successful in trying to convey that?

HOSTIN: You know, I'm not so sure, and, of course, I'm a former prosecutor. So I tend to look at things in a different way, but it just doesn't make sense to me.

BOLDUAN: It doesn't all add up to you?

HOSTIN: It doesn't all add up, and that's what I always did when I was a prosecutor. I wanted to make sure that it just mace common sense, the story that I was telling to the jury. And in this, what bothers me the most, when you boil it all down and get rid of all the other details, when he thinks there is an intruder in the bathroom, and he is yelling out to Reeva, repeatedly, he says, he's yelling out to her, get down. Yells into the bathroom, leave us alone.

Why doesn't she ever say, hello, it's me, I'm in the bathroom? That really, really bothers me, and I just can't imagine that the judge listening to this doesn't bring her real world experience into the courtroom and think, but why didn't Reeva ever say anything?

CUOMO: Well, but -- here's the thing. There's a great answer to your question.

HOSTIN: Are you sure?

CUOMO: Yes. And here's -- not what happened. The point is, I'm Oscar Pistorius. I don't have to prove to you what happened. That's your job, Mr. Prosecutor, Madam Prosecutor, and you're the one who has to come up with a better story than mine. It has to be beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, you can poke all the holes want in my story, you better have a good one yourself, in fact, a better one, and I actually am surprised by a lot of the things that he's saying, because despite and above and beyond what's been in the record already, he is laying out that he was aware of Reeva. He did call out to her. He was -- it wasn't that he just ignored it and it's convenient, and then the emotion, which way that plays.

That's a fair point of suspicion right now. This is unusual, but we don't know this judge. We don't know how her head works at trial.

Robyn Curnow has been watching it all in there. We can't see Oscar, she can.

Robyn, you're joining us from Pretoria now, what was that breakdown? How did that play in the courtroom? What do you think motivated the judge to adjourn?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it was just so emotional. He was sobbing so uncontrollably. As you said, it is slightly unusual. Neither side asked for an adjournment. It was the judge herself who took it into her own hands to say, listen, enough. Stop. Give him a break.

And also, you heard a court orderly after she had left the room and you still heard Oscar Pistorius heaving, basically trying to come to terms with what he just said and they actually said, move him away from the microphone.

So I think this is a court very much aware not only of the fact this is very traumatic for both sides involved but this is all been broadcast to the world, and I think they don't want to turn this into some sort of circus, some soap opera. So, I think that's why there's a sense of caution particularly by this judge and the court itself.

BOLDUAN: Robin what we can see, because we cannot see him on the stand. We've been seeing images of both families, his family and Reeva Steenkamp's family. They've been showing images of them.

June, her mother, has really remained very stoic throughout his testimony, until today.

What have you seen from her?

CURNOW: Absolutely. She has been sitting there stony faced at times and emotional. Just remember, yesterday, when he turned and looked at her, directly looking to apologize to the mother of the woman he killed, again, she really had very little emotion on her face. What is also important about today though is that she did bow her head as she was holding her head in her hands during some of this testimony. There was some sort of response. Her lawyer next to her occasionally putting his arm around her, but she has been incredibly strong, I think.

Also, remember, her father has not been here throughout all of this. We understand he's quite ill, and perhaps wouldn't have been able to take this kind of graphic detail.

CUOMO: So that was counsel sitting next to the mother, who was cautioning, kind of guiding her when to look down based on how gruesome the photos are being raised there.

Sunny just raised an interesting question, Robyn. The judge -- what do we know about her in terms of her disposition towards testimony? Is it unusual for her to take adjournments like this? Is she showing unusual sensitivity?

BOLDUAN: I think we lost her.

CUOMO: It remains an open question.

BOLDUAN: We'll reconnect with Robyn in a second.

CUOMO: It's certainly unusual.

You know, Sunny, the main thing is this -- he's laying out the story of what happened. He is clearly making a case that everything he did made sense under the circumstances. You were pointing out parts that don't make sense and for you, it begins right with his initial reaction to the idea that there is an intruder in the bathroom.

HOSTIN: Yes. And that is because I think we've all been in bed with our partner, with our loved one, and have heard something go bump in the night.

My first reaction is to make sure that my husband is in bed with me, and I usually ask. Hey, did you hear that? He has done the same thing to me. And so, I just -- it doesn't make a lot of sense to me that the one person that he wanted to protect, he doesn't secure. He just shouts.

And it also doesn't make sense to knee if, indeed, he is shouting to her, which is what he says. He's not saying I whispered to her. He's shouting to her. There is never a response from Reeva. There's never a response from the bed, there's never a response from the toilet. Hey, it's me. Calm down.

That just doesn't make sense, and I think when the judge is listening to that, the judge is going to have to use her common sense as well.

BOLDUAN: I think we've reconnected with Robyn Curnow. She was inside the courthouse and just came out to talk with us.

Robyn, what more can you tell us? CURNOW: I think in reference to the points made now, I think it's difficult, and we must be careful giving an opinion how any of us would react, somebody else or a partner would react and what we believe to be the same situation.

Just remember, this is very much part of the defense's case, Oscar Pistorius is going to argue that perhaps he's reacting differently to a perceived threat, because of his history, his fear of crime, and particularly because he is, was not on his prosthetics, that he is a double amputee that he did feel more vulnerable under the same circumstances.

And crucially, in terms of his defense, I think, he told a story on the stand yesterday where he described how when he was a little boy and his mother sent him to school and he was getting bullied because he had no legs and he came home the one day and his mother said to him, in this family, you stick up for yourself. You're alone. You go and fight it out. You deal with that problem.

And he went back and had a fight with the kids who were bullying him, and his mother made a point of saying, you stand up for yourself, and I think crucially, you do it on your own, and this is a family throughout his childhood, where this has been reinforced over and over again, that you kind of attack the danger. You go towards it, to protect yourself.

And this is something that the defense is going to build on. He might seem irrational, perhaps to you and me, but in terms of their argument, this is how Oscar Pistorius was thinking at that moment based on his childhood and based on the fact that he had a physical disability.

BOLDUAN: Robyn, I also want to get more of your perspective, because you have the unique perspective of being inside the courtroom and being able to see Oscar Pistorius on the stand.

At one point before they adjourned, a short time ago, they had him kind of re-enact, he took off his prosthetics. He put on his gym shorts, if you will. The way he looked when he was getting into bed that night. Talk us through that.

CURNOW: Well, it was quite powerful. That says it was also very short. It was -- a moment in time essentially. Basically, he went out of the courtroom, changed from out of his suit and tie, into, like you say, his sweats.

He then went and stood in front of the door that's there as evidence, looming over the courtroom every day.

So, you got a sense of his height in relation to the bullet holes in the door. Then he sat down, took off his prosthetics, stood up against so you could see how much shorter he was in relation to, again, the bullet holes in the door and, of course, he's much shorter without his prosthetics on and then very quickly they were back on and he was back on the dock. It wasn't a labored -- the point wasn't very theatrical. In fact, the defense probably could have drawn it out a little bit more. It was very brief, but very powerful, and I think that's also something that's going to be explored further by the defense.

Just how vulnerable he is, how small he is compared to, you know, the Oscar Pistorius who's apparently the superstar and this discrepancy between the image of himself and this vulnerable young man who made this fatal error, or not, that night.

CUOMO: One problem that he's going to have. Robyn Curnow, thank you very much. We'll come back to you when testimony resumes and get your take on that part of it.

If what Robyn says it true, OK, and I don't know that is, but if it's true that he has this background, he's got a problem, because if he is this man who always takes on anger and he takes it on and he is afraid of nothing and fights for himself, then everything he just said on the stand is a lie. Because he says he was afraid he couldn't take on anything. He was petrified, he didn't know what to do. Felt it was the only thing he could do.

HOSTIN: Because he was in a state of terror.

CUOMO: That's right. He's not aggressive at all. He's not taking it on at all. He could have put on his legs and said I'm going to -- that would have been consistent with that.

So, you don't know how it's going to be taken. It makes more fault to what Sunny is saying. Default to what a reasonable person is saying in circumstances and even those she's a judge, she's going to decide this case. It's not like it is here, and she's bringing her own set of what's reasonable.

HOSTIN: And as I recall, I believe she's a former crime reporter as well as perhaps a lawyer and has some sort of training in psychology. So, you know, in social work. I think she's certainly going to bring that real common sense.

BOLDUAN: Let's head back to South Africa. Stay with us, Sunny. Because court is resuming right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- I cannot responsibly ask the court to carry on today.