OSCAR Pistorius has formally denied the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, pleading not guilty at the start of his trial today.
Michelle Burger told the first day of the South African athlete’s murder trial in Pretoria that the “terrible” sound was followed by four gunshots.
Mr Pistorius, 27, denies murdering the 29-year-old model and TV star on 14 February last year, insisting he acted in self defence at his gated community in Pretoria, believing there was an intruder in his home.
It is the first time parts of a South African trial have been shown live on television – and the world’s media was watching as the athlete entered the court.
The double leg amputee, who has competed in both the Paralympic and Olympic Games, had to walk past Ms Steenkamp’s family in the packed courtroom. He looked straight ahead while his victim’s mother, June, watched him intently as he passed in front of her.
The athlete, nicknamed “Bladerunner”, stood for the first 30 minutes of the trial, with his hands clasped in front of him, and spoke only to confirm his not guilty plea.
Judge Thokozile Masipa asked: “Do you understand the charges Mr Pistorius?”
“I do. I do, my lady,” he replied.
“How do you plead?” she asked.
“Not guilty,” he said.
Ms Burger, who spoke in Afrikaans with an English translator, was the first witness at what is expected to be a three-week trial.
She told the court she lived on a neighbouring estate to Mr Pistorius in Pretoria and that she and her husband were sleeping with the windows open.
“Just after 3am I woke up from a woman’s terrible scream,” she told the court.
“I sat upright in bed and my husband jumped up and went to the balcony.
“I was still sitting in bed and I heard her scream and call for help.
“Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times he called for help.
“My husband talked on the phone and explained to security that people next door were being attacked. My husband went back to the balcony. I heard her scream again – it was louder, it was more intense.
“Just after the screaming I heard four gunshots.”
Mr Pistorius, who has continued to train in the year since the killing after being released on bail, insists he believed his girlfriend was in the bedroom and an intruder had broken in and was in the bathroom.
He denies the prosecution’s claim the couple had argued that night, saying it relies on “unsubstantiated allegations”.
Defence lawyer Kenny Oldwage read out a statement outlining Mr Pistorius’ version of events.
“During the early hours of the morning I brought two fans in from the balcony,” he said.
“I had shortly before spoken to Reeva who was in bed. Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom.
“I brought in the fans, closed the sliding doors, and drew the blinds and curtains.
“I heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed an intruder or intruders had entered the bathroom through the bathroom window, which was not fitted with burglar bars.
“I approached the bathroom armed with my firearm to defend Reeva and I. At the time I believed Reeva was still in bed.
“The discharging of my firearm was precipitated by a noise in the toilet which I, in my fearful state, knowing I was on my stumps, unable to run away or properly defend myself, believed to be the intruder or intruders coming out of the toilet to attack Reeva and me.”
His account did not include the screams that Ms Burger said she heard.
During cross-examination Mr Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, asked the witness if she believed he was lying.
Ms Burger replied: “I can only tell the court what I heard that evening. I cannot understand how I could clearly hear a woman scream but Mr Pistorius could not hear it.”
Mr Pistorius’ uncle, brother and sister were also in court. Next to them on the relatives’ bench sat the family of Ms Steenkamp.
If found guilty of premeditated murder, Mr Pistorius could face life imprisonment. He has also been charged with illegally possessing ammunition.
The trial continues.