PRETORIA (Reuters) - His voice cracking with emotion, Oscar Pistorius took the witness stand in his own defense on Monday, saying the Valentine's Day shooting of his girlfriend last year had left him sleepless, terrified and plagued by nightmares.
The disabled South African track star, on trial for murder, also apologized to the mother of model Reeva Steenkamp, saying he fired four times through a toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home in the belief he was defending her from an intruder.
Steenkamp, a law graduate and model, was hit by at least three rounds fired by Pistorius, one of which - to the head - killed her almost instantly, the court has heard.
"I was simply trying to protect Reeva," Pistorius told the court at the start of his testimony. Reeva's mother June Steenkamp, sitting in the public gallery of the packed Pretoria courtroom, bowed her head and remained steely faced.
Since the shooting, 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic star Pistorius, who faces life in prison if convicted of murder, testified he had been on anti-depressants and sleeping pills because of his disturbed state of mind.
"I'm scared to sleep. I have terrible nightmares about things that happened that night," he said. "I can smell blood. I wake up to being terrified."
He recounted one occasion when he woke up so scared in the middle of the night that he crawled into a cupboard before calling his sister, who came round to sit with him.
"I wake up in a complete state of terror to the point that I would rather not sleep," he added.
Earlier, during graphic forensic testimony from a defense pathologist, Pistorius sat in the dock, retching into a bucket.
OBSESSION WITH GUNS
The distraught figure in the witness stand was a far cry from the gun-obsessed, fast-living hot-head that prosecutors sought to portray during the first 16 days of the trial.
As well as murder, Pistorius is accused of firing a pistol through the sun roof of a friend's car while on a public road, and discharging a handgun underneath the table of a packed Johannesburg restaurant.
He has pleaded 'not guilty' to all charges.
The trial, now in its 17th day, has gripped South Africa and millions of sports and athletics fans around the world who saw in Pistorius a symbol of triumph over physical adversity.
The sprinter's lower legs were amputated as a baby but he went on to achieve global fame as the "Blade Runer", a nickname derived from the carbon fiber prosthetic limbs he wears on the track.
After winning gold medals at the Beijing and London Paralympics, he stunned the world by reaching the semi-finals of the 400 meters in the London Olympics against able-bodied athletes.
His defense hinges on his assertion that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder hiding in the toilet when he shot her on Valentine's Day last year.
However, several witnesses have testified to hearing the terrified screams of a woman before and during a volley of shots.