Oscar Pistorius covered his ears today as his attorney challenged a witness, at one point arguing that his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp could not have screamed after Pistorius fired a first shot through a bathroom door because that shot likely struck her in the head and caused serious brain damage.
Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux made the claim as he tried to poke holes into the testimony of a witness who said she heard a woman scream after a first shot. That scream was followed by several more shots in quick succession, Pistorius neighbor Michelle Burger had told the court.
Pistorius, the paralympian known as the Blade Runner, hung his head frequently during the testimony on the second day of his first degree murder trial and at one point put his hands over his ears during Roux's cross examination of Burger.
"We know it was four shots and two things I put to you, the total impact of that shots would not have allowed a scream," Roux said in challenging Burger. "In fact a state witness tells us with a head shot she would have dropped down immediately."
Authorities said that the first show struck Steenkamp in the finger, but Roux cited a state witness saying, "His statement says when the bullet hit her finger her hand was most likely covering her head and went into her head. After the bullet hit the deceased dropped immediately."
The comments came during a tense cross-examination of Burger, a university lecturer who was the prosecution's first witness. Burger, who lives about 580 feet away from Pistorius' home, testified that she heard blood-curdling screams on Valentine's Day morning last year when Steenkamp was killed.
Roux repeatedly tried to poke holes in Burger's story, insinuating that her statement and her husband's statement are virtual carbon copies.
The defense attorney, who is said to be one of the best in South Africa, also tried to get her to acknowledge that the gunshots she heard were in fact Pistorius breaking down the wooden bathroom door with a cricket bat, and that the woman's voice she thought she heard could have been Pistorius' voice.
Roux had to apologize to Burger for his sarcastic tone after the prosecutor objected. At one point during the cross-examination, Judge Thokozile Masipa instructed the witness to answer "yes," "no" or "I don't know" after Roux asked the same question eight times, clearly not happy with the answers Burger gave.
When Roux released the witness, prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked her a few questions to clarify some of her answers during cross-examination. Whether it was Nel's gentler tone or the stress from being cross-examined by Roux, Burger started crying.
Today's hearing was delayed by about 20 minutes after a local TV channel aired a photo of Burger, which is in violation of court rules. Masipa warned journalists following the incident that photos are not allowed of witnesses who request privacy.
A second witness, neighbor Estelle Van Der Merwe, also told the court today that she heard a woman's voice in what sounded like an argument. Van Der Merwe testified that she heard four "thuds" and then complete silence the night Steenkamp died.
The day concluded with the third witness, Charl Johnson, who is Burger's husband, being called to the stand. While Burger said she heard one shot followed by a pause and then three successive shots, her husband told the court he was not sure how many shots he heard.
Johnson will resume his testimony on Wednesday, when he is expected to face an aggressive cross-examination by Roux.
Pistorius, 27, who faces a premeditated murder charge and several weapons counts, has pleaded not guilty. The Olympian said he mistook his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, for an intruder and shot her through a bathroom door.
If he is convicted, Pistorius could face at least 25 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
- Society & Culture
- Crime & Justice
- Reeva Steenkamp