Pistorius Trial Hears of Man’s Cry for Help as Defense Regroups

Neighbors of Oscar Pistorius testified they heard wailing and a man crying for help the morning the Paralympic athlete killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp as the defense tried to shore up its argument that the shooting wasn’t premeditated.

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, has pleaded not guilty to murder and said he thought Steenkamp was an intruder in the bathroom of his house when shot her through a toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year. Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has argued that the runner shot Steenkamp after they had an argument, with some neighbors testifying they heard shouting and a woman’s screams shortly after 3 a.m. that day.

“I heard somebody saying help help help,” Eontle Nhlengethwa said today in the high court in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital. “It was a very loud sound, my lady. It was the sound of a male person’s voice.”

Nhlengethwa said she and her husband were woken by a “bang” and didn’t hear screams.

Lawyer Barry Roux is seeking to rebuild the defense’s case after the prosecution repeatedly challenged the qualifications of an expert witness who also contradicted Pistorius’s version of the way Steenkamp had fallen when she was shot. In his testimony, Pistorius appeared to change his argument from self defense when he said he fired the gun by accident.

Roux said today he expects to conclude his case next week.

Michael Nhlengethwa earlier testified that Pistorius had introduced Steenkamp to him as his fiance and had told him that he planned to move from Pretoria to Johannesburg to be closer to Steenkamp.

‘Was Broken’

Yesterday, Johan Stander, the manager of the gated community where the shooting took place, said that when he and his daughter arrived at the scene Pistorius was carrying Steenkamp down the stairs.

“When he reached the bottom of the stairs, my daughter asked him to put Reeva down,” Stander said. “He was really crying. He was broken, he was screaming, crying, praying.”

The trial, which started on March 3, is being broadcast live on radio and TV. Pistorius has also pleaded not guilty to three gun-related charges.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will give the final judgment in the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system, could consider a lesser charge of culpable homicide if she rules that the act wasn’t premeditated. Pistorius would face a minimum of 25 years in jail if convicted of premeditated murder.

Religious Man

Nel has sought to undermine the defense’s portrayal of Pistorius as a religious man with a deep fear of crime who was in a loving relationship with Steenkamp. He accused Pistorius of tailoring his testimony to fit in with the evidence.

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has been free on 1 million rand ($95,000) bail since February last year.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike Inc., Luxottica Group SpA’s Oakley and Ossur hf, the Icelandic company that manufacturers the blades he uses.

Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

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