Sat alone in the dock of the North Gauteng High Court, Oscar Pistorius put his head in his hands as the court heard of the brain damage that would have been inflicted on his late girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, when the bullet hit.
The Olympic sprinter, who has pleaded not guilty to murdering Ms Steenkamp, briefly placed his hands over his ears as his defence counsel questioned the first witness in his trial.
Dr Michelle Burger, a neighbour, broke down in tears as she recounted hearing the “blood-curdling screams” of a woman in the early hours of 14 February last year.
Mr Pistorius’s lawyer, Barry Roux, challenged that: “That person, who had sustained that amount of brain damage would have no response… and yet you claim to have heard her screaming?”
Yet Dr Burger, whose home is 177 metres from Mr Pistorius’s, reiterated her claims to have been woken by the screams coming from his apartment in the early hours of Valentine’s Day, simply stating: “I know what I heard.” On the second day of South Africa’s “trial of the century”, Mr Roux aggressively sought to discredit Dr Burger’s testimony – 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 then faded away.
“You heard screams [during the shots]?” Mr 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.”
Ms Steenkamp’s mother, June, was not in court, having attended on Monday with the intention of “really looking Oscar in the eye” (the pair had never been in the same room together).
But in a television interview she expressed her disappointment at Mr Pistorius having “walked straight past her” and told of the harrowing experience it had been.
“When they were talking about Reeva and what she went through, [having] locked herself in the toilet and she’s been shot and she’s in pain, that was my child that I gave birth to. And it’s hard for me, that. That’s when I broke down,” she told ITV News.
“That was my child there that was screaming. That was injured and dying. The screaming, you know. I’m not someone who hates people. One has to forgive. I don’t want the anger to burn me up. It’s got to go. I’ve got to let go. One has to forgive. We’ll never forget.”
Mr Pistorius’s lawyer was also forced to admit that the defence team recently conducted tests at the athlete’s home in the middle of the night, to see how far the sound of screaming would travel – a fact it was likely hoping to reveal at a later date – after the court in Pretoria heard from another of Mr Pistorius’s neighbours, Estelle Van der Merwe, who said she heard screaming coming from his apartment two weeks ago.
“Yes, we did tests, in February this year, at two to three in the morning,” Mr Roux said.
Ms Van der Merwe became the second witness and neighbour to claim to have heard the sounds of a commotion, coming from Mr Pistorius’s house on the night Ms Steenkamp was killed, in contrast to Mr Pistorius’s version of events.
Ms Van der Merwe said her husband told her that “it was Oscar”. The couple had never met the athlete but likely had heard his voice on television.