Talk of "bloodcurdling screams" and shots in the night took center stage Monday in the first day of testimony in the murder trial of South African amputee track star Oscar Pistorius, who killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year.
"Something terrible was happening at that house," Michelle Burger testified. "Her shots, her screams were petrifying," she said later. Burger was the only witness Monday in a trial that is expected to last a few weeks. Testimony was scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.
Under questioning by prosecutors, Burger told the court that she heard a woman's screams and a man yelling for help.
"Just after 3, I woke up from a woman's terrible screams," she said. "Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times he yelled for help." Burger said her husband called authorities. She later told her husband that she feared the woman had witnessed her husband being shot "because after he screamed, we didn't hear him."
Language issues caused problems after the lunch break, as defense attorney Barry Roux pressed Burger on her account during cross-examination. She frequently had to help her Afrikaans interpreter translate her words into English, and eventually dropped speaking in her native tongue altogether. Roux questioned Burger's timeline of events and what she heard, asking if the "bang" sounds she heard might not have been gunshots, but rather a cricket bat bashing at the bathroom door. She answered that she had clearly heard gunshots, testily answering Roux's questions about timing, saying she "didn't sit there with a stopwatch and take down the timing of each shot."
Roux also suggested that the screams she had interpreted as being a woman's might have been the high-pitched screams of a terrified Pistorius. "I'm 100% certain I heard two different people that evening," she responded.
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This witness house is opposite Oscar's house about 177m away, just under 600 feet. It seems as though his defence lawyer was try to cast doubt in her mind whether the woman's screams she heard may have been Oscars at a higher pitch but the witness was dead set that she heard a woman scream that night.