Pistorius takes stand in murder trial

PRETORIA, South Africa -- Oscar Pistorius took the stand in his murder trial Monday. He began his testimony with an apology to the family of the girlfriend he killed, saying he wanted to protect her.

The defense in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial opened its case on Monday, calling a pathologist in an effort to cast doubt on the prosecution's assertion that girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp ate no more than two hours before the double-amputee runner killed her.

The testimony by Prof. Jan Botha was critical to the defense because Pistorius has claimed the couple was in his bedroom by 10 p.m. on Feb. 13, 2013, and any indication that they were awake much later could undermine the Olympian's account of the sequence of events. Pistorius fatally shot Steenkamp after 3 a.m. the next morning, saying he mistook her for an intruder in his home. The prosecution has argued that he intentionally killed her after an argument.

Botha said the time frame of digestion was difficult to assess because of variations in many factors, including the volume of food consumed, its caloric content and the psychology of the person who was eating. The testimony countered statements by a pathologist called by the prosecution who said that, judging by the food contents in her stomach, Steenkamp probably last ate no more than two hours before her death.

Botha's testimony followed four weeks of prosecution-led testimony and a week's adjournment after one of the judge's aides fell ill. He was allowed to take the stand first and ahead of Pistorius in an agreement with prosecutors because of a family illness. Defendants who choose to testify normally go first in South Africa.

Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the nighttime killing and faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux said he would call between 14 and 17 witnesses.


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