PRETORIA, South Africa - Using witness accounts of a panicked nighttime phone call from Oscar Pistorius begging for help and his desperate pleas for Reeva Steenkamp to stay alive, the defense at his murder trial tried to reinforce its case Monday that the double-amputee Olympian fatally shot his girlfriend in a tragic error of judgment.
Johan Stander and his daughter Carice Viljoen, neighbors and friends of Pistorius, testified that they were at the runner's villa soon after the shooting on Feb. 14, 2013, and that Pistorius was praying, trying to help Steenkamp breathe, and urging her to live.
Viljoen testified that Pistorius was saying to Steenkamp as she lay on the floor with multiple gunshot wounds: "Stay with me, my love, stay with me."
Pistorius had shot four times through a toilet cubicle door with his 9 mm pistol minutes earlier, hitting Steenkamp in the hip, arm, and head. He claims he thought she was an intruder.
Prosecutors maintain Pistorius, 27, is lying about the perceived trespasser, and his story is designed to cover up that he killed model Steenkamp, 29, intentionally in the midst of an argument. Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder.
The testimonies from the neighbors began the seventh week of proceedings in the globally televised trial, which resumed after a two-week recess.
Stander testified that Pistorius phoned him at 3:19 a.m. - about two minutes after the shooting. "I saw the truth there that morning. I saw it and I feel it," Stander testified, saying he believed that the shooting was accidental because of Pistorius' desperation when they found him carrying a bloodied Steenkamp downstairs from the upstairs bathroom. Pistorius was "really crying. He was in pain," Stander said. "He was torn apart, broken, desperate, pleading."
The defense was trying to underline its scenario that Pistorius was emotionally distressed after shooting Steenkamp by mistake. Pistorius' lawyers were also trying to regain some momentum after chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel put Pistorius under intense pressure during the runner's own testimony, which appeared to show some inconsistencies in his story.