PRETORIA, South Africa – The murder trial of South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius began dramatically in Pretoria’s High Court on Monday, with a neighbor testifying that she heard “bloodcurdling screams” on the night his girlfriend was killed.
Michelle Burger, who lives close to Pistorius, told the court that she was awakened by the sound of a woman screaming in the early hours of Valentine’s Day morning last year. She said that she sat up in bed and that her husband woke up and went out onto their balcony to listen.
“It was a very traumatic thing. We could hear very close, bloodcurdling screams,” she told the court. “I thought it was a house-breaking.”
Pistorius, who in 2012 won acclaim for becoming the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics, pleaded not guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, as family members sat behind him in court Monday.
Further along the same court bench, members of Steenkamp’s family, including her mother, June Steenkamp, were seated. They looked grim as Pistorius walked into the court.
‘‘Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him,” June Steenkamp, 67, was quoted as saying by the Pretoria News newspaper. “But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me. I feel I need that.”
Pistorius admits that he fatally shot Steenkamp through a toilet door at his apartment, but he claims he believed she was a intruder.
Burger testified that when she heard the screams, she assumed that intruders were attacking a couple. She said she heard a woman scream for help, and a man’s voice also call for help.
She said she told her husband to phone the apartment complex’s security guards to report the incident. Shortly afterward, the woman’s screams grew louder, she said.
She said she then heard four gunshots. “Bang ... bang-bang ... bang,” she said, describing a pause between the first shot, followed by two shots close together, then a small pause followed by a fourth shot.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Barry Roux suggested that the shots were fired while Burger was still asleep and the bangs she described were the sounds of Pistorius bashing down the toilet door with a cricket bat after shooting Steenkamp.