Witnesses have cast doubt on the statements of Oscar Pistorius in the second day of his trial. The double-amputee Olympic sprinter says he killed his girlfriend by accident on Valentine’s Day 2013.
On Tuesday, the second day of Pistorius' trial, the athlete's neighbor, Michelle Burger, told the North Gauteng High Court that she had heard "petrified screams" from a woman "very scared of something that was threatening her life." Burger, the first witness to give evidence at the trial, took the stand both Monday and Tuesday and also said she had heard a man cry for help.
Burger's husband, Charl Johnson, said that a woman's screams had woken him on the night of February 14, 2013. He said he then ran to the balcony and heard more screams.
"I could hear she was in trouble," Johnson said. "It was clearly a distress call." He added that he then heard the gunshots and a final scream after that.
Estelle van der Merwe, another neighbor, testified to having heard a loud argument that lasted for about an hour. She recalled hearing four sounds that her husband called gunshots.
On Monday, Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty to murder and three unrelated gun charges. If the neighbors' sequence of events is accurate, it would undermine the claim of Pistorius that he shot his girlfriend, the model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp, after mistaking her for an intruder.
Tuesday, Pistorius buried his head in his hands and wiped away tears as the court heard the grisly details of the killing of his girlfriend, the first sign of emotion from the track star in his two-day murder trial. The Olympian and Paralympian has sat largely impassive during the trial for the murder in his suburban Pretoria home.
On Tuesday, Pistorius leaned forward in the dock and clasped his head between his hands as lead defense attorney Barry Roux read out details from Steenkamp's autopsy, including that examiners had removed "some fragments of the bullet" from the 29-year-old's head. Medical staff had declared Steenkamp dead at the scene with wounds in the head, arm and hip from three bullets from a 9 mm pistol.
Burger held firm on her testimony despite pressure from Roux, who argued that she could have mistaken the athlete's screams for those of a woman and called it impossible to detect emotions in screams heard from 177 meters (585 feet) away. Roux also heaped scorn on Burger's claim that she had heard a scream fade away after the shots, saying that Steenkamp would have "dropped immediately" following to a bullet in the head.
Judge Thokozile Masipa will pronounce Pistorius innocent or guilty and will decide on any sentence. If convicted, prosecutors say they will seek a life sentence, the strictest punishment available in South Africa, a country that no longer has the death penalty and no trial by jury. A life sentence would require Pistorius to spend a minimum of 25 years in prison.
The case has garnered international attention as the world's most high-profile trial involving an athlete since the case of OJ Simpson in the mid-1990s. At one point, the proceedings were interrupted after allegations that a South African television channel was broadcasting a photograph of Burger against a court order guaranteeing privacy of witnesses who request it. South African broadcaster eNCA announced that it had shown the photograph of Burger, with Masipa prohibiting photos of witnesses during their testimonies.
Pistorius won gold medals in the Paralympics after having both legs amputated as a child owing to a congenital condition. He is known as Blade Runner because of carbon-fiber prostheses below his knees.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)