PRETORIA, South Africa — The first witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial testified Monday to hearing a woman’s “blood-curdling” screams before the sound of four gunshots on the night the double-amputee Olympian killed his girlfriend.
Michell Burger, a woman who lives on an estate next to Pistorius’ gated community, said she and her husband were awoken by the screams in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year, when Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp by shooting four times through a door in his bathroom.
Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp by mistake, thinking she was a dangerous intruder in his house, but prosecutors say the world-famous athlete shot his girlfriend after a fight and immediately tried to paint a picture at the trial of a loud argument before the fatal shots.
Burger’s testimony contradicts Pistorius’ version of events, because he said he thought Steenkamp was in bed, and he did not describe any woman screaming.
“It was very traumatic,” Burger said, speaking in Afrikaans through an interpreter and in answer to questions from lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “You could hear it was blood-curdling screams. You can’t translate it into words. The anxiousness in her voice, and fear. It leaves you cold.”
Burger said: “She screamed terribly and she yelled for help” and testified that she also heard a man shout for help before the shots were fired.
Pistorius earlier pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial to charges of murder and three other counts relating to shooting guns in public and illegal possession of ammunition. Wearing a dark gray suit and black tie, he spent the first 30 minutes of the first day of the trial at the high court in the South African capital standing before his defense lawyer, Barry Roux, asked the judge for permission for Pistorius to sit.
If convicted on the murder charge, Pistorius could be sent to prison for at least 25 years before the chance of parole, the minimum time someone must serve if given a life sentence in South Africa. South Africa does not have the death penalty.
A lesser sentence is possible if Pistorius is found guilty of murder but without premeditation. He also could be convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s version of manslaughter, in which someone is killed through negligence.
Judge Thokozile Masipa, hearing the biggest trial of her career, will ultimately pronounce the champion runner innocent or guilty and will decide on any sentence. South Africa has no trial by jury.
Photo via Twitter/@MandyWiener