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 an estate
nearby, 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
"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 - a possibility in crime-ridden
South Africa - Burger said her husband called the private security
firm guarding their upmarket housing estate in Pretoria's eastern
suburbs, 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
"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." 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
400 meters semi-final running on carbon-fiber "blades", argues that
Steenkamp's killing was a tragic accident after he mistook her for
an intruder hiding in the toilet.
The testimony from Burger, who lived 177 meters from Pistorius' home
in a neighboring housing estate, was not televised live at her
request, although the audio was still broadcast.
"NOT GUILTY" PLEA
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, a law graduate, women's rights campaigner and
familiar face on South Africa's celebrity party scene.
He also pleaded not guilty to several other firearms charges,
including one of discharging a pistol under the table of a swanky
Johannesburg restaurant and another of putting a bullet through the
sun-roof of a former girlfriend's car.
As Pistorius entered the packed courtroom, Steenkamp's mother June
followed him with her gaze.
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
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Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Pistorius fired four rounds
from a 9 mm pistol through the door of the toilet in a deliberate
attempt to kill whoever was behind it.
Steenkamp was hit three times, in the head, arm and hip. She was
declared dead at the scene.
If the state succeeds in convincing Masipa of intent to kill,
Pistorius could get life, in all likelihood a minimum of 25 years
At his bail hearing last year, Pistorius admitted to culpable
homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, a crime that could see him put
away for 15 years - or he could leave the Pretoria High Court a free
man, with no more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence.
Coming less than a month after the rape, disemboweling and murder of
a teenager near Cape Town, the 2013 shooting of Steenkamp caused
outrage and drew further attention to the high levels of violence
against women in South Africa.
The trial before Masipa - juries were abolished by the apartheid
government in the 1960s - is set to last a minimum of three weeks
but with as many as 107 witnesses waiting to be called by either
side it is almost certain to last far longer.
The proceedings have attracted massive media attention, with
hundreds of foreign and domestic media camped outside the Pretoria
court, a reflection of Pistorius' status as a global symbol of
triumph over physical adversity.
The trial is also being broadcast live on television, a first for
South Africa, where, two decades after the end of apartheid, the
justice system is often accused of favoring the rich and wealthy,
who are able to afford the best lawyers and forensic experts.
(Reporting by David Dolan; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal
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