News / Africa

As Pistorius Murder Trial Begins, Neighbor Describes Hearing 'Blood-curdling' Screams

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 3, 2014.
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 3, 2014.
Anita Powell
A neighbor of  Oscar Pistorius described hearing "blood-curdling" screams the night the South African athlete shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius' long-awaited murder trial got under way Monday with the double amputee athlete pleading not guilty to all charges against him stemming from the Feb. 14, 2013, shooting death of Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 27, responded, "Not guilty, my lady," to every charge before Judge Thokozile Masipa.

He looked calmer during this court appearance than he did a year ago during a tear-soaked, trembling appearance just days after he shot his model girlfriend dead at his Pretoria home.

Oscar Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg on Jan. 26, 2013, less than a month before Steenkamp's death.Oscar Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg on Jan. 26, 2013, less than a month before Steenkamp's death.
Oscar Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg on Jan. 26, 2013, less than a month before Steenkamp's death.
Oscar Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg on Jan. 26, 2013, less than a month before Steenkamp's death.
He doesn't deny shooting Steenkamp. The trial is about his intent. Pistorius claims he mistook his girlfriend of three months for an intruder and did not mean to kill her when he shot four times through a locked bathroom door. 

The prosecution says they will prove premeditated murder. 

The state called the first of 107 witnesses, Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius who described what she heard on the evening of the shooting.

Burger, whose home is 177 meters from Pistorius', said she was awakened by a woman's "blood-curdling" screams, followed by a man's cries for help. She then says she heard four gunshots, while the woman continued screaming.

"She was very scared...her shouts, her screams were petrifying," Burger said. "Before the gunshots, moments before the gunshots, I sat in the bed and it's the most helpless feeling I've ever had in my life. I anticipated something was going to happen, because of the climax of her shouts, I knew something terrible was happening in that house."

Burger testified she and her husband thought they were hearing a violent house break-in and called security. She said it only occurred to her later, upon seeing the news of the shooting at Pistorius' home, that that is what she had heard.

The athlete's defense lawyer, Barry Roux, suggested Burger instead heard the sound of Pistorius breaking down the bathroom door with a cricket bat, consistent with his client's account of events.

But Burger steadfastly stuck to her account.

  • Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, April 14, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 10, 2014.
  • Jane Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother is comforted by a relative after her dead daughter's picture was shown on screen during the trial of Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 9, 2014.
  • Family members, including uncle Arnold Pistorius, right, cry as they listen to Oscar Pistorius testifying in court in Pretoria, April 8, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius becomes emotional during his trial at the high court in Pretoria, April 7, 2014.
  • Members of the public crowd around Oscar Pistorius as he leaves the high court, Pretoria, March 12, 2014.

  • Oscar Pistorius cries as he prays with his sister Aimee and brother Carl at his indictment at the magistrates court in Pretoria, August 19, 2013.
  • This aerial image taken from video provided by VNS24/7 shows the home of Oscar Pistorius in a gated housing complex in Pretoria, Feb. 14, 2013.
  • Olympian runner Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius celebrates winning the men's 400 meter final during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sept. 8, 2012.

The families of Pistorius and Steenkamp were also in court Monday, seated a few meters apart on opposite ends of a long bench.

Legal experts predict the trial could take months and, given today's lengthy witness appearance, that appears likely.

Pistorius shot to fame for being the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012. He also has won medals at the Paralympic Games. 

Parts of the trial are being televised live. A South African station has launched a 24-hour channel dedicated solely to the case.

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Comment Sorting
by: MPoss from: Palm Springs, CA
March 03, 2014 1:53 PM
This man wakes up in bed because he hears a sound coming from the bathroom which is a few feet away with the door closed - yet doesn't bother to turn his head to see if Reeva is still in bed with him - he notices his two watch dogs are peacefully sleeping and are not awakened by any break-in - yet, he doesn't ask "Reeva, are you in the bathroom?" - and immediately assumes it's a robber and "jumps the gun"... and starts shooting like a paranoid lunatic... And Legal experts predict the trial could take months? Huh? This man is guilty - he was in a fit of a jealous rage and believed that Reeva was going back to her previous relationship. Motive? If I can't have, no one else will... Question: Besides wearing shorts and a shirt, was Reeva wearing shoes when she was shot in the bathroom? Why? Perhaps she was getting ready to leave because they were quarreling but decided to freshen up before leaving his place?

by: oskar from: south africa
March 03, 2014 12:35 PM
what likely happened is the argument escalated to the point where the assaults he committed to the victim were so great he determined murder to be a option, and then lie and claim a farce.

Pistorius may his life in jail be long and full of interactions.

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