Pistorius Trial Witnesses Cite Argument, Screams Before Gunshots

Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial ended its second day after one witness testified to hearing an argument before gunshots were fired while two others reported screams and cries for help.

Estelle van der Merwe, who lived in the same Silver Woods Country Estate as Pistorius, told the court that she heard what sounded like an argument in the home of a neighbor. After the shooting, she said her husband went to the window and heard what he believed to be Pistorius crying. Charl Johnson said he and his wife Michelle Burger were awakened by a woman’s screams and he ran to his balcony to listen.

“The intensity and fear in her voice escalated and it was clear that this person’s life was in danger,” he said. “That’s when the shots were fired. I heard the lady scream again and the last scream faded moments after the last gunshot was fired.”

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, pleaded not guilty yesterday in the High Court in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, to purposefully shooting his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in the city on Valentine’s Day last year. His lawyer Barry Roux argued that it was a case of accidental death.

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. He also denied guilt for three separate firearms charges. Presiding Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa will rule on the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.

Emotional Levels

Roux earlier challenged Burger, saying she couldn’t have detected what she described as rising levels of emotion in the voice of a woman who was locked in a toilet 177 meters (194 yards) away. Burger insisted that her statement was accurate.

Burger ended her testimony in tears, grabbing a tissue from her purse.

“I told them everything I heard,” she said in response to a question from prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “The terrifying screams.”

Proceedings were briefly adjourned when Nel told the court that a picture of Burger was being shown on TV, saying it violated a condition of a court order that some witnesses could choose not to be filmed giving evidence. The judge ruled that no photographs may be shown of those witnesses.

Johannesburg-based eNCA television later apologized for showing her image.

Family Members

Members of both families sat on front benches in the wood-paneled courtroom. Pistorius, who has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February 2013, wore a dark suit and sat on the accused bench behind his legal team writing notes.

“I don’t know if Oscar could hear because I couldn’t,” Roux said after the court adjourned, referring to poor sound in the courtroom. During his testimony, Masipa repeatedly asked Johnson to speak louder.

More than 100 witnesses may be called by the prosecution in the trial. Apart from the murder charge, Pistorius faces two counts of illegally firing a gun in public and one of illegally possessing ammunition.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc. and Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.

Multichoice Africa Ltd. and Primedia Broadcasting Ltd. are permitted to broadcast the trial live on radio and partially live on television.

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