Oscar trial: third witness tells of screams
A third State witness testified about a woman screaming for help as Oscar Pistorius's murder trial entered its second day on Tuesday.
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius talks to his defense team after arriving at High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, 4 March 2014. Pistorius stands trial for the 2nd day for the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. Picture: Kim Ludbrook/Pool
They were giving evidence in the High Court in Pretoria about the night one of the country’s most famous athletes shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Charl Johnson took to the stand after lunch on day two of the televised trial, and confirmed in chilling detail the testimony given earlier by his wife, lecturer Michelle Burger.
The couple, who live in a security complex bordering on the Silver Wood Country Estate where Steenkamp died, said they were woken in the early hours of February 14, last year, by a woman’s cries, followed by that of man and a volley of gunfire.
“I stood on the balcony and heard a woman shouting for help, then a man shouting help, help, help,” Johnson said under questioning from prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
He then got up and went to his bedroom balcony, where he heard more screaming, he told the court, where Pistorius pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder on Monday.
Johnson added: “I could hear she was in trouble… clearly distressed calls.”
The couple tried to call the security post of their complex, Silver Stream Estate, but mistakenly dialled a number at a previous address, he said.
“I then went back to the balcony and I heard the woman’s scream. The intensity and fear escalated and that’s when the first shots were fired,” said Johnson.
He said the last scream came after the last gunshot was fired.
Quizzed on how many shots he heard, Johnson said he initially thought five or six shots.
“I subsequently learned it was four,” he said.
The witness recalled how he and his wife learnt the next day that Pistorius had shot Steenkamp and realised that they had not, as they assumed in the night, been woken by a burglary in progress at the nearby house.
Like Burger, he was adamant that he had heard the voices of both a man and a woman.
This has been vigorously disputed by Pistorius’s defence lawyer Barry Roux.
In relentless cross-examination of Burger on day one and two of the trial, Roux put it to her that Pistorius’s voice rose when he was anxious, making him sound like a woman.
He put it to Burger that she only heard one person — the accused — cry out before the shooting, but that she was too biased against him to make the slightest concession that might play in his favour.
But Burger, an economics lecturer, firmly stuck to her version of events,
“My statement is a few pages long. I’ve been testifying for hours and I can explain the minute details to the court,” she said.
Later Roux also disputed Burger’s statement that the cries faded only after the shots, saying Steenkamp would have been too severely injured to scream at this point.
“There was serious, serious, brain damage,” said Roux.
“It could not have been. She could not have screamed.”
On hearing this, Pistorius broke down for the first time since the trial began on Monday. He held his head in his hands and cried, and accepted a tissue from a woman sitting with his family in the public gallery.
The Paralympian gold medallist’s version of events is that he believed he was shooting at an intruder hiding behind the locked toilet door of his house when he killed Steenkamp.
In a statement read to the court on Monday, he rejected the notion that they had a row before her death as “unfair and incorrect”.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel is trying to prove he is lying, and another witness he called earlier on Wednesday told the court she heard loud voices coming from the direction of Pistorius’s home on the night of the shooting.
Estelle van der Merwe, a neighbour of Pistorius in Silver Woods, said she was kept from sleep around 2am by what sounded like people fighting.
“It lasted for about an hour,” said Van der Merwe said, testifying in Afrikaans through a translator.
The court adjourned at 3pm on Wednesday.