(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius took the stand Monday and apologized to the family of his slain girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and told the court that he thought he was protecting her. Pistorius, 27, struggled to keep his composure during his testimony, crying at times and at other times speaking so low through a wavering voice that the judge politely asked him to speak up. Others in the courtroom also cried during Pistorius' testimony.
Monday was the first time Pistorius has publicly discussed the night that he shot Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door on Valentine's Day 2013. He claims he mistook her for an intruder.
If convicted of premeditated murder, he could be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.
Pistorius began his long awaited account by apologizing to Steenkamp's family.
"There hasn't been a moment since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family," he said. "I wake up every morning and you're the first people I think of, the first people I pray for."
Reeva Steenkamp's mother sat stone-faced in the courtroom.
“I was simply trying to protect Reeva,” Pistorius said.
The legless paralympian known as the Blade Runner added, "I can promise that when she went to bed that night she felt loved."
Pistorius told the court that he is haunted by her death and that his love affair with guns is over.
"I'm scared to sleep. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night. I can smell the blood and I wake up to be terrified.... I'd rather not sleep," he said through sobs.
Pistorius said that he is on anti-depressants and takes sleeping pills.
Pistorius, who owned several guns and used to sleep with one, says he doesn't want to touch a gun again. Instead, a security man stands outside his door, he testified.
In talking about his childhood, Pistorius said his mother slept with a firearm tucked inside a padded bag underneath her pillow.
"She often got scared at night. We didn't live in the best of areas. There was a lot of crime. She would call the police, call us to her room and we would wait for the police to arrive," he said.
At Pistorius' request, he was not shown on the court's camera, but the audio was carried.
Pistorius was preceded to the stand by Professor Jan Botha, a retired pathologist who testified for the defense.
Botha insisted the state pathologist's findings that Steenkamp had eaten no more than two hours before her death cannot be accepted.
Pistorius has claimed that he and Steenkamp went to bed about 10 p.m. The prosecution's claim that Steenkamp had eaten about 11 p.m. would contradict Pistorius' timeline of events.
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