Oscar Pistorius trial: Witness says that she heard 'bloodcurdling screams' followed by four shots as athlete pleads not guilty to murdering Reeva Steenkamp

Pistorius comes face-to-face with Steenkamp's mother for the first time since shooting

Pretoria

“Blood curdling screams”, followed by the sound of gunfire, were heard coming from the home of Oscar Pistorius on the night he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, according to the first witness to testify in the case, which began yesterday at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa.

“The fear in that woman’s voice, you only fear like that if your life is threatened,” said Dr Michell Burger, whose home is next to the boundary of the Silverwoods Estate where Pistorius’s villa is situated.

Dr Burger said she and her husband were awoken by the sound at around three o clock in the morning.

“I sat upright in bed and my husband also woke up,” she said. “My husband jumped up and went to the balcony. I was still sitting in the bed and heard her screams. She screamed terribly and yelled for help. And then I also heard a man screaming for help three times, he yelled for help.

“When the shots started I heard a woman scream. It was during the shots that I heard her. After the fourth shot, her screams faded away.”

She said there had been a long pause between the first shot and the subsequent three. “It was bam (pause) bam bam bam.” She added: “I said, ‘I hope that woman did not see her husband being shot in front of her’ because after he called for help we did not hear him again.” After hearing on the news the next day that Pistorius shot his girlfriend thinking she was an intruder, Ms Burger said: “It can’t be because it is not what we heard.”

The events she claims to have overheard paint a markedly different picture to Oscar Pistorius’s account, a story he indicated he will be sticking to in the strongest possible terms.

In a dark suit, black tie and white shirt Oscar Pistorius rose only to speak the words “not guilty, my lady” on four separate occasions, as the state prosecutor read out four separate charges against him. One is that he “intentionally killed” Reeva Steenkamp. The other three are comparatively minor firearms charges - that he discharged a gun through the open sun roof of a car and in a Johannesburg restaurant, and had illegal ammunition at his home - incidents that may be important when the state attempts to portray him as volatile, reckless and obsessed with guns.

In a statement read to the court by Kenny Oldwage, a member of his defence team, Pistorius said that he and Reeva Steenkamp were in a "loving relationship" and "that I would want to shoot or kill Reeva cannot be further from the truth".

The state claims that Ms Steenkamp was deliberately killed by Pistorius after an argument at his Pretoria home, which he again vehemently denied. “There was no argument. I will deny this in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

 

Pistorius’s defence counsel Barry Roux was extremely hostile in his questioning of Dr Burger, suggesting the noises she heard were not gunfire, but the sound of Pistorius breaking down the bathroom door with a cricket bat, and the high-pitched screams that sounded like a female voice was in fact a highly anguished Pistorius.

“Do you believe the man?” Roux asked her. “Or do you believe that Oscar Pistorius lied at the bail application? I have asked you this question five times and you haven’t answered it.”

He also took her to task for what he felt were discrepancies between the statement she had given police and the claims she made in court. There is no mentions of “blood-curdling screams and rising levels of anxiety” in her police statement, merely that she “heard a scream.”

But Dr Burger stuck rigidly to her story, that the was “100 per cent sure” that the sound she heard was gunfire. “I know what gunshot sounds like,” she said.

Questions over Pistorius’s character will form a central part of the case as it unfolds in the coming weeks, and Pistorius’s team made plain they will fight hard to prevent such evidence being admitted.

“The only purpose of admitting character evidence would be an attempt to engineer an assassination of my character,” his statement said. “During the course of the trial my lawyers will object to the admittance of such character evidence.

Prosecutors are still hopeful of gaining access to messages on Pistorius’s iPhone, which they hope will shed light on what may have happened in the final hours before Ms Steenkamp’s death. They are currently trying to secure a US court order to instruct Apple to unlock the phone, as the password provided by Pistorius’s legal team has not worked. They admit it is a “fishing expedition”, but they hope that messages contained on the phone may reveal the cause of arguments reportedly overheard in Pistorius’s home in the hours before the shooting happened.

If convicted of murder he will almost certainly receive a life sentence, with a minimum term of 25 years. If he is found not guilty on the murder charge, he will likely face a charge of ‘culpable homicide’ - South Africa’s equivalent of manslaughter, for which the sentence could range from a suspended, non-custodial sentence, to 15 years in jail.

Read more: Oscar Pistorius trial: World’s media descends on North Gauteng as murder case opens
Oscar Pistorius trial: No jury for athlete, just a single judge and 24-hour news
Oscar Pistorius murder trial: what should we expect?
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat