Africa

Saturday 26 July 2014

Reeva's brain so damaged 'she couldn't possibly have screamed after she was shot'

Defence team lands blows on testimony of neighbour who said she heard screaming then gunshots

Tom Peck

Published 04/03/2014|13:21

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Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pictured in Johannesburg in February 2013
Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pictured in Johannesburg in February 2013

OSCAR Pistorius reached for a white handkerchief and began to cry at the North Gauteng High Court this morning as his defence counsel spoke of the extent of the brain damage that was inflicted on his girlfriend by the bullet that struck her in the head and killed her.

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The athlete's defence team landed significant blows against the testimony of his neighbour, who yesterday cast significant doubts over the athlete's version of the events that took place in his villa in the early hours of Valentine's Day morning last year.

Terse exchanges between Pistorius's neighbour, Dr Michelle Burger, and his defence counsel Barry Roux began from the very off this morning, with Dr Burger sticking to her version of events - that she was woken by the sound of a woman screaming, followed by the sound of a man screaming for help, and then four gunshots, during which the woman's screaming continued, and faded away afterwards.

"You heard screams [during the shots]?" Pistorius's defence counsel Barry Roux asked her. "You could hear fear in that voice, emotion in that voice?

"What we know is that Reeva was locked inside the bathroom. We know, there is no dispute, that when the shots were fired, Reeva was in the toilet and the door was locked."

Dr Burger has claimed she and her husband were woken by the sound of a woman screaming, from their house which is 177 metres from the South African athlete's.

"You tell us from 177 metres you could hear that screaming," Mr Roux continued. "It was so distinct, what you could hear, that you could hear increased emotion, increased intensity?"

"I know what I heard," Dr Burger replied.

"That person, who had sustained that amount of brain damage [when the fourth bullet struck her in the head], would have no response, no cognitive function. There can have been no response, and yet you claim to have heard her screaming?" Mr Roux asked.

Dr Burger countered that the sound of the screaming could have carried from before the shot was fired.

Mr Roux also sought to cast doubt over Burger's reliability as a witness, claiming her and her husband's statements given to police are so similar "one must have served as a template for the other."

Dr Burger countered that the statements were given in the form of answers to questions to police, and are merely "police writing style."

"If he [the police captain] is asking me about the sequence of events, if he asked me what time I went to bed, I told him, between nine and ten. My husband would have answered the same."

Mr Roux's assertion is that the sound of gunshot was in fact the sound of Mr Pistorius striking the locked bathroom door with a cricket bat.

"I really don't see that a bat and a gun shot sound the same," Dr Burger said. "A gun shot is extremely loud."

"Do you know what it sounds like when you hit a bat against a door?" Mr Roux continued.

"No I've never hit a bat against a door. But I know what a gun shot sounds like. If I hit a bat against a door in this court, and then pulled a trigger, I know which would be louder."

When asked for why Mr Pistorius would have shouted for help before the shots were fired, Dr Burger replied: "The only thing I can wonder is that it was a mockery, but I do not know. Mr Pistorius is the person who must answer that."

"You will even go so far as to call him a mockery, with no facts?" Mr Roux countered, pointing at Oscar Pistorius in the dock. "Just to not make a single concession that can help that man?"

Earlier, as Dr Burger was being cross-examined, the state prosecutor Gerrie Nel dramatically intervened to say the witness's face was being shown on television, and the court was adjourned.

Several South African broadcasters fought a lengthy legal battle to broadcast the trial, and not showing the face of witnesses who wished to remain anonymous was a crucial part of the agreement.

In fact, a 24 hour news channel eNCA News had shown a still photograph of Dr Burger, taken from her university's website, as many newspapers had done, which State Prosecutor Nel said was a "direct violation" of the television agreement.

Judge Masipa, who was far more vocal today than yesterday, warned: "The media must behave. You will not be treated with soft gloves by this court." She ordered an investigation to follow.

Reeva Steenkamp's mother, who attended yesterday with the expressed hope of 'really looking Oscar in the eye' did not attend court today.

Independent News Service

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