PARALYMPIC superstar Oscar Pistorius’s neighbour yesterday described hearing “blood-curdling screams” coming from the athlete’s house on the night he is accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The testimony of Michelle Burger, a university economist and resident of a nearby gated estate, proved the focal point on the first day of the South African sprinter’s long-awaited trial in Pretoria.
Pistorius, 27, pleaded not guilty to the state’s claim that he “intentionally and unlawfully” shot model Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. He has said he mistook her for an intruder.
Burger told the court that she was woken shortly after 3am on the night in question by the sound of “a woman’s terrible screaming”.
“Then I also heard a man screaming for help,” she added. “I heard her screams again. It was worse, more intense. Just after her screams I heard four shots.”
Burger, who said she could hear her neighbours because she was sleeping with windows open, was challenged by the defence. She added: “It was very traumatic for me. You could hear blood-curdling screams.”
Pistorius, who faces a life sentence if found guilty, said Steenkamp’s death had been a “tragic accident” in a statement read in court by his lawyer. “This allegation is denied in the strongest terms. We are in a loving relationship.”
The double amputee, known by fans as Blade Runner due to his carbon fibre prosthetics, has insisted that he repeatedly shot through the door of his bathroom because he feared that an intruder had broken into his Pretoria home in a private complex.
Pistorius, who made history by competing against non-amputees at the London 2012 Olympics, was bailed 12 months ago after an eventful hearing. His trial, which is expected to last three weeks, looks likely to feature yet more twists.
Even before proceedings began yesterday there was drama in the courtroom, as judge Thokozile Masipa delayed the start because a translator was not present. When they did appear, their efforts to translate Burger’s testimony from Afrikaans into English received criticism.