The first witness at Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial yesterday told the court that she heard “bloodcurdling screams” from a woman, followed by shots, a dramatic opening to a case that could see one of global sports’ most admired role models jailed for life.
Taking the stand after the Olympic and Paralympic star pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year, Michelle Burger, who lives in a nearby housing estate, testified she was woken up in the middle of the night by a woman shouting for help.
“I was still sitting in the bed and I heard her screams,” Burger told the Pretoria High Court, speaking in Afrikaans through an interpreter.
“She screamed terribly and she yelled for help. Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times he yelled for help,” she said.
Thinking it was a violent break-in, Burger said her husband called the private security firm guarding their estate, before the pair heard more shouts.
“I heard the screams again. It was worse. It was more intense,” Burger told the court, her voice cracking with emotion. “She was very scared.”
“Just after her screams, I heard four shots. Four gun-shots,” she said. “Bang ... bang, bang, bang.”
“It was very traumatic for me. You could hear that it was bloodcurdling screams,” she said.
Throughout her testimony, the 27-year-old Pistorius sat impassively, staring at the floor.
The athlete, who was born without legs, but reached the 2012 Olympic 400m semi-final running on carbon-fiber “blades,” says that Steenkamp’s killing was a tragic accident after he mistook her for an intruder hiding in the toilet.
Earlier, a somber Pistorius dressed in dark suit, white shirt and black tie stood before Judge Thokozile Masipa to plead not guilty to murdering Steenkamp. He also pleaded not guilty to several other firearms charges, including one of discharging a pistol under the table of a Johannesburg restaurant and another of putting a bullet through the sun-roof of a former girlfriend’s car.
In his opening address, Pistorius’ lawyer, Kenny Oldwage, sought to portray the state’s allegations as an unwarranted character assassination of a young man deeply in love.
Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Pistorius fired four rounds from a 9mm pistol through the door of the toilet in a deliberate attempt to kill whoever was behind it.
If the state succeeds in convincing Masipa of intent to kill, Pistorius could get life, in all likelihood a minimum of 25 years behind bars.