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'I heard her bloodcurdling screams', neighbour tells trial


Oscar Pistorius arrives for his trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: AP

Oscar Pistorius arrives for his trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: AP

Oscar Pistorius arrives for his trial at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: AP

A witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has described waking up at around 3am to a woman's "terrible screams".

"We woke up from the screams. My husband jumped up and went to the balcony. I was still sitting in the bed and I heard her screams," witness Michell Burger told the opening day of the trial.

She said she also heard a man screaming for help, adding: "Three times he yelled for help."


Ms Burger, who lived in the Silver Stream Estate, a neighbouring estate to Pistorius's Silverwoods Estate, said she called security and expected residents at the neighbouring estate to do likewise.

She added: "I heard her screams again, it was worse, it was more intense.

"Just after her screams, I heard four shots, it was four gunshots that I heard."

Ms Burger told the court it had been traumatic to hear the "bloodcurdling screams", adding: "It leaves you cold."

Asked to describe the successive shots, she said there was a pause between the first and second, which was longer between the second and third shots and the third and fourth.

She said: "I told my husband that I do not hope that that woman saw her husband being shot in front of her because after he screamed for help we didn't hear him again."

The court heard she had assumed it was a house break-in.

She said she and her husband later realised how important their evidence was when they saw they lived closer to Pistorius than other witnesses who had made statements.

Pistorius has formally denied the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, pleading not guilty at the start of his trial, which finally got under way at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria today.

At the start of proceedings, double amputee Pistorius was read the charges he faces.

The 27-year-old is charged with the murder of Ms Steenkamp, whom he shot dead at his home on Valentine's Day last year.

The six-times sprint champion also faces charges under the Firearms Control Act, relating to firing a gun through the sunroof of a car in September 2012, and firing a gun while in a restaurant in Johannesburg in January last year, as well as possession of ammunition.

Pistorius was asked by judge Thokozile Masipa if he understood the charge of murdering Ms Steenkamp, to which he replied: "I do, I do, my lady."

Asked how he pleaded, he said: "Not guilty, my lady."

The Paralympic star, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie, entered not guilty pleas to four charges in the packed courtroom.

The opening moments of his trial were televised in a first for South Africa. Pistorius, dubbed 'Blade Runner' because of his prosthetic legs, shot Miss Steenkamp, then 29, dead at his home, but claims he thought she was an intruder.

His trial is expected to hear from more than 100 witnesses, including neighbours who claim to have heard screams from his house that night, as well as former girlfriends of the athlete.

In court today, Pistorius, who was supported by family members including siblings Carl and Aimee and his uncle Arnold, came face to face with Miss Steenkamp's mother June, who is attending the trial.

The sporting star's case will be decided by the judge assisted by two "assessors", but no jury.

The mandatory sentence for someone convicted of premeditated murder in South Africa is life with a minimum of 25 years in prison, meaning that if Pistorius is found guilty, he will be over 50 when he is released.

The paralympian is accused of the premeditated murder of Miss Steenkamp, who died of multiple gunshot wounds. Prosecutors allege Pistorius shot her through the locked bathroom door at his home in the early hours of February 14 2013.

The court was read a statement from Pistorius in which he claimed he had mistakenly thought there was an intruder in his home, leading him to open fire in an attempt to protect himself and Miss Steenkamp.

The statement, read by Pistorius's defence lawyer while the athlete remained standing, said the scene had been contaminated and disturbed.

In it, the paralympian said he did not intend to kill his then girlfriend and they had not argued that night.


He said: "I deny this allegation in the strongest terms because there was no argument. The allegation that I wanted to shoot (or kill) Reeva cannot be further from the truth."

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court: "They were the only two people in the house. There were no eyewitnesses.

"The state's case is based on circumstantial evidence."

He said evidence included what neighbours had heard, and prosecutors would argue that "a certain inference" could be drawn from the scene.

"We argue that the accused's version in the bail application and today could not reasonably possibly be true, should be rejected," he said, adding: "The only inference from the circumstantial evidence would be that the accused shot and killed the deceased."