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Pistorius social worker says sprinter heartbroken

By Nomatter Ndebele

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A government social worker assigned to give Oscar Pistorius emotional support after the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, told a court on Thursday the South African track star on trial for murder was heartbroken over the shooting.

Yvette Schalkwyk, who has been visiting Pistorius since Steenkamp's killing on Feb. 14 last year, dismissed suggestions that Pistorius, who has broken down repeatedly in court, was using his emotions to deflect tough questioning.

"I was very upset when I read that people were saying that Oscar took acting lessons," she told the Pretoria High Court. "I wanted to come and give my observation of what I saw."

She said the 27-year-old Olympic and Paralympic sprinter had told her he missed 29-year-old law graduate and model Steenkamp a great deal and was crying "80 percent of the time".

Steenkamp died almost instantly after being hit by four hollow-point 9mm rounds fired through a toilet door.

Pistorius says it was a tragic mistake after he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder who had broken into his luxury Pretoria home. The state alleges that he shot her in a fit of rage after the couple had an argument.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel criticized Schalkwyk's evidence as irrelevant but judge Thokozile Masipa said her views were valid, especially since Nel had accused the athlete of breaking down whenever he came under pressure on the witness stand.

If convicted of murder, Pistorius faces life in prison.

The trial, which has been running since early March, has drawn huge interest internationally and in South Africa, where it has been broadcast live on a dedicated cable television channel.

Before the shooting, Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby, was one of the most recognized names in athletics, competing against able-bodied sprinters on carbon-fibre prosthetics.

Besides a clutch of Paralympic medals, he reached the semi-finals of the 400m at the London 2012 Olympics.

(Reporting By Nomatter Ndebele; Editing by Ed Cropley and Gareth Jones)

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