Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius’s lawyer accused witnesses of collaborating in their testimony about hearing a woman scream and cries for help on the third day of his trial for the premeditated murder of his girlfriend.
Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, pleaded not guilty on March 3 in the High Court in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, to planning to shoot his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in the city on Valentine’s Day last year. Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has admitted to shooting Steenkamp three times while she was in his bathroom, believing she was an intruder.
Pistorius’s lawyer Barry Roux questioned the similarities between the testimony of Michelle Burger and her husband Charl Johnson, including that Steenkamp’s screams “faded,” and how it differed from statements they gave to the police after the shooting. Burger and Johnson were the first and third witnesses for the prosecution and lived near Pistorius.
“You just as well have stood together in the witness box,” Roux said today, adding the witnesses may have discussed their testimony. “It’s not about the time, it’s about the exact same words.”
The athlete took notes during the testimony and spoke briefly to family members in the court before a group of bodyguards shielded him through a throng of cameramen and photographers to a waiting car. The court was adjourned early, at 2:45 p.m. local time, after Roux requested copies of notes Johnson said he had previously written about the shooting.
More than 100 witnesses may be called by prosecutor Gerrie Nel. About 20 people who live or work near Pistorius’s home in the exclusive housing estate in the capital city are expected to give testimony in a trial scheduled to run for three weeks and broadcast live on radio and TV. Apart from the murder charge, Pistorius faces two counts of illegally firing a gun in public and one of illegally possessing ammunition.
Johnson told the court at the start of the session he had received threatening phone calls and text messages relating to the case.
“Stop lying in court,” Johnson said, reciting a message. “We know Oscar is innocent. It’s not cool man.”
Estelle van der Merwe, another neighbor of Pistorius, told the court yesterday that she heard what sounded like an argument at a nearby home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Johnson said he and Burger were awakened by a woman’s screams.
Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February 2013. Members of both families were in the wood-paneled court. Presiding Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will rule on the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.
Kevin Lerena testified that Pistorius fired a gun that was passed to him under the table in a crowded restaurant in January last year, slightly grazing the boxer’s toe. Pistorius told a friend, the owner of the gun, to take the blame, Lerena said.
Pistorius wasn’t aware that the gun was loaded and he was shocked by what happened, Roux told the court.
The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. (NKE) and Luxottica Group SpA’s (LUX) Oakley. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.
To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Burkhardt in Johannesburg at email@example.com