PRETORIA, South Africa – “Bang ... bang, bang, bang.”
The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius opened Monday in South Africa with testimony from a neighbor who described the sound of what she said were four gunshots and recalled the “blood-curdling screams” of a woman who prosecutors say was the girlfriend slain by the onetime star athlete in his home.
“It’s the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” university lecturer Michelle Burger said of listening to the screams. “I knew something terrible was happening in that house.”
The 27-year-old double-amputee runner shot model and television personality Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
Prosecutors allege that Pistorius, who has been free on bail, shot Steenkamp, 29, after an argument. He has said he killed her after mistaking her for a nighttime intruder in his home, shooting her through the closed door of the toilet cubicle in his bathroom.
Early testimony focused on whether the screams that Burger said she heard were those of a terrified woman about to be shot to death, as prosecutors allege, or were instead Pistorius’ desperate shrieks for help after a fatal mistake, as his defense lawyers contend.
Burger, who lives about 200 yards from Pistorius’ house, gave her account of the sequence of events.
“I was woken up by a woman’s petrified screams. I heard her screaming first,” Burger said. “Then I heard her call for help. Then I heard a man call for help three times. I then made a call. ... I gave the phone to my husband, and he spoke to security. Afterward, I heard the woman’s petrified screams again.”
Burger said she then heard four gunshots, with a gap between the first shot and the rest, and more screaming.
“I heard her voice during the shots,” she said. “Shortly after the shots was the last time I heard that woman.”
The chief defense lawyer, Barry Roux, opened his cross-examination by asking Burger whether she thought Pistorius was a liar. She didn’t directly answer that, but questioned Pistorius’ version.
“I can only tell the court what I heard,” Burger said. “I cannot understand how I could clearly hear a woman scream but Mr. Pistorius could not hear it.”