PRETORIA, South Africa – Oscar Pistorius' first phone call after he shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine's Day last year was to his friend and estate neighbor Johan Stander.
On the stand, the older man, his face creased with emotion, was quietly adamant.
"I saw the truth there that morning. I saw it. And I feel it," he told the court, back in session after a two-week recess.
Listed, but not called as a prosecution witness, and instead testifying as the fourth witness for the defense, Stander described in dramatic detail what he saw when he arrived at the Paralympian's home in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013.
"It was a young man, walking down the stairs with a lady, a young woman in his arms. And the scene … You see … You see an expression on his face, the expression of sorrow. The expression of pain.
"He's crying and he's praying. He's asking God to help him. He was torn apart … Broken. Desperate. Pleading … " he said.
Stander insists a distraught Pistorius tried to save Reeva Steenkamp's life, "when he put his finger in her mouth and try to keep the airway open for her to breath, how he begged her to stay with him, how he begged God to keep her alive."
Phone records show the athlete called his friend, who he had known for four years, at 3:19 a.m.
"He said, 'Oom [Uncle] Johan, please, please, please come to my house quickly, I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder. Please, please, please come quickly," Stander said.
His daughter Carice Viljoen (born Stander), awakened by barking dogs across the neighborhood, told her parents she heard shouts.
Taking the stand immediately after her father, the petite blonde spoke of a voice calling, "Help! Help! Help!" in the middle of the night, as she went to close her balcony door.
"I remember my heart was pounding so fast," she said, "I was very afraid. … The dogs kept barking. I got back into bed and thought, 'How am I going to fall asleep now after hearing that?' "
When Viljoen told her parents what she heard, her mother explained it was Pistorius, who had just shot his girlfriend.
Racing to the athlete's home, Viljoen and Stander found a security guard outside with Frank Chiziweni, the Paralympian's live-in domestic helper. Nudging the door open, Viljoen looked up to find a sight that still causes her to break down in tears.
Struggling to speak, Viljoen – also a friend of Pistorius' – wept on the stand. "He just wanted to get her to hospital," she said, "He was begging me to put her in the car."
Painting a minutely detailed picture of the scene – as did Stander – her testimony was frantic, the words racing out of her mouth, as her father watched from the public gallery.
They tried to stop the bleeding with towels, Viljoen said, and all the while, Pistorius was "begging and pleading with Reeva as well, to just stay with him. He said 'Stay with me, my love. Stay with me.' "
"I asked him, 'Oscar, what happened?' " Viljoen said, "And he just looked at me and said, 'I thought she was an intruder.' "
After Johan Stipp – another neighbor and radiologist – arrived and examined Steenkamp, Viljoen said as he passed her he murmured, "Yeah, it's very bad."
The two people the Paralympian trusted to be first on the scene say they have not spoken directly to Pistorius about the incident since that night, despite also attending the private memorial service the athlete organized for Steenkamp less than two weeks after her death.
At the time, the Pistorius family described it as "a private service with people who share his loss, including his family members who knew and loved Reeva as one of their own."
As Viljoen spoke of Steenkamp's last moments, Reeva's mother June was comforted on the family bench, while in the dock the Paralympian put his head into his hands.
Viljoen said after the ambulance crew arrived, requesting identification for Steenkamp, she watched Pistorius go upstairs to collect her handbag.
"Almost as he was out of my vision, my dad came in, and he's like, 'Where's Oscar?' and I said, He went upstairs.' And I immediately thought, 'Oh my gosh, 'cause when I was standing there, I heard him saying to the paramedics, the gun's upstairs in the bathroom. And I thought he was going to go and possibly shoot himself."
Despite Viljoen's insistence of Pistorius' seeming hysteria, during cross examination, prosecutor Gerrie Nel returned to his exploration of the athlete's thought processes, attempting to paint them as rational.
But, observed Nel, Pistorius constantly asked when the ambulance would arrive, and requested Viljoen to use her fingers to keep Steenkamp's airway open. "He was following what was going on," the prosecutor told her.
"Everything was in a frantic state," insisted Viljoen.
Viljoen described the athlete vomiting in his kitchen after Steenkamp's passing, needing to be coaxed into the garage for forensic photographs, as he had trouble walking past his girlfriend's body.
Later in the day, Viljoen said she accompanied the athlete's distressed sister Aimee as she packed a bag for Pistorius, chaperoned by a police officer.
Aside from several emotional interludes, which have come to be expected of the murder-accused during his extended trial, Pistorius appeared composed but resigned Monday, his hair freshly cut after the two-week adjournment.
Viljoen's father Johan Stander testified to also knowing Steenkamp, as the athlete had introduced them and the model had stayed in Pistorius' home on her own, while he was in Cape Town.
He quashed previous prosecution speculation that Steenkamp would have been unlikely to have disarmed the house alarm in order to have a midnight snack – the state pathologist estimates her last meal to have been much later than her dinner with Pistorius – explaining that she had previously showed him how to use the alarm controls and keys.
Stander, who used to hold a management position at the Silver Woods estate where he and Pistorious live, also related instances of crime in the security complex, including one occasion where a woman was tied up in her home, and another where intruders gained access via ladders – Pistorius' alleged fear that evening. He explained that security systems had since been improved.
Adjourning early, as the defense team said they had expected only to call two witnesses to the stand Monday, attorney Barry Roux apologized to the judge, promising to keep other witnesses on standby in future.
Before the recent two-week adjournment, Roux said he expected to call another 15 witnesses, leaving 13 more to testify during the scheduled court time before May 16.
They are expected to include other neighbors in the Silver Woods housing estate who heard shouts but no woman's screams, a host of forensic experts challenging the state's findings, and potentially even a psychologist to testify to Pistorius' state of mind during the shooting.
Roux has less than two weeks to show Judge Thokozile Masipa and her two assessors that Pistorius' story of mistaken identity is both reasonable and possible.
Court will not sit on Wednesday, May 7, as a public holiday has been called to allow voting in the country's national elections.
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