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BREAKING: Oscar Pistorius takes the stand in murder trial

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Oscar Pistorius pleads not guilty to the alleged charges at the start of his trial the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013.

Update: Oscar Pistorius has testified that he is scared to sleep, has terrible nightmares, and “if I hear noise I wake up just in a complete state of terror.” He said he is on medication, including an antidepressant and sleeping aids.

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — Oscar Pistorius’s defense team began its fight back Monday against the prosecution case that Pistorius intentionally murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

In front of a courtroom including Steenkamp’s mother June, the first defense witness, pathologist Jan Botha, talked about the wounds Steenkamp suffered when Pistorius shot her, and when she last ate.

The South African amputee sprinter put his head down in his hands as Botha said the shot that hit Steenkamp’s arm was “akin to a traumatic amputation” and that she died “fairly quickly after sustaining the head wound.”

Pistorius, 27, is accused of intentionally murdering Steenkamp, 29.

The Blade Runner admits shooting and killing her but insists he mistook her for a burglar in his house.

The defense team will call 14 to 17 witnesses, Pistorius’s lead defense lawyer said Monday as he opened his case, with Pistorius himself likely to go second.

Pathologist Botha went first because of “family health reasons,” lead defense lawyer Barry Roux said, breaking with the South African legal custom of the defendant testifying first.

Pistorius will be up next, Roux implied, saying Botha was the only defense witness who will go “out of order.”

The prosecution rested its case March 25 in the murder trial after 15 days and 21 witnesses.

Pistorius admits he killed Steenkamp, firing four shots through a closed door in his house in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Three hit her, with the last one probably killing her almost instantly, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy.

But Pistorius says he thought she was a nighttime intruder in his pitch-black house and believed he was firing in self-defense. He pleaded not guilty to murder.

The trial, which began, is scheduled to continue until the middle of May.

Pistorius first achieved global fame as an outstanding double amputee sprinter who ran with special prostheses that earned him the nickname “Blade Runner.”

Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will decide the verdict in collaboration with two experts called assessors. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each of two unrelated gun indictments and 15 years for a firearms charge he also faces.

If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence.

The sentence for culpable homicide is at the judge’s discretion.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene reported and wrote from London, Nicola Goudling reported from Pretoria, South Africa, and Emily Smith reported from Atlanta. CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps contributed to this report.

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