Oscar Pistorius on trial for Reeva Steenkamp murder

Key Points

  • Oscar Pistorius shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at their home in Pretoria on 14 February 2013
  • Mr Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to all the charges he faces
  • Witness Michelle Burger said in her evidence that "you could hear blood-curdling screams"
  • State prosecutors allege the killing was premeditated, after the couple had a row
  • For the first time in South Africa, parts of the trial are being televised live
  • All times GMT
  1.  
    07:51:

    Good morning and welcome to live updates from the Oscar Pistorius trial, due to start at 8:00 GMT (10:00 local time) in Pretoria, South Africa.

    The 27-year-old athlete, who competed at both the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the Olympics, is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp - a charge he vigorously denies.

     
  2.  
    07:52:

    You can watch a timeline of the case that has gripped South Africa and the world, here.

     
  3.  
    The BBC's Andrew Harding

    tweets: Prosecutor Gerrie Nel arrives. Some Steenkamp and Pistorius relatives also sitting down now. His brother Carl is here.

     
  4.  
    The BBC's Andrew Harding

    tweets: Awkward... #oscarpistorius family and Steenkamps sharing same bench. Two yards separate them for now but no eye contact so far.

     
  5.  
    07:58:

    International interest in the case is high. The BBC's Karin Giannone is among the media crowd outside the court.

    The BBC's Karin Giannone outside the court
     
  6.  

    And the BBC's Andrew Harding is inside the court, from where he tweets: "All quiet in court. Unlike last year's bail hearing nobody sitting on the floor. Plenty of room. And the air conditioner is finally working."

     
  7.  

    Oscar Pistorius case: The key questions.

    Oscar Pistorius in court on a previous occasion
     
  8.  
    08:08:

    Three weeks has been allocated for this trial, but it could well take longer, say legal analysts.

     
  9.  
    08:10:

    Audio of the entire trial will be broadcast, but some testimonies from witnesses will be excluded from the TV coverage. Mr Pistorius' legal team had unsuccessfully argued against both TV and audio broadcast, and it is expected that his witnesses will exercise their right not to be shown on TV.

     
  10.  
    08:15:

    There are 80 journalists who have been granted access to the courtroom - 40 South African reporters, and 40 journalists from the foreign media. A further 200 journalists have access to an "overspill" room outside of the courtroom, legal analysts say.

     
  11.  
    08:19:

    The court will hear profoundly differing accounts of how Ms Steenkamp died. Explore the scene of her death interactively.

    A computer graphic representation of the scene of Ms Steenkamp's death
     
  12.  
    08:21: BBC's Africa correspondent, Andrew Harding, inside the court

    tweets about the lawyers facing off today: "Roux vs Nel… Chalk and cheese. Defence lawyer garrulous and relaxed. Prosecution "fox-like" and dour (or so a friend of his told me)."

     
  13.  
    08:24:

    Cameras inside the court will not zoom in on the faces of witnesses, in a decision the judge felt respected the principle of open justice without being overly intrusive, according to legal analysts speaking to the BBC.

     
  14.  
    08:30:
    Oscar Pistorius

    One of the first images of Oscar Pistorius arriving at court.

     
  15.  
    08:32:
    Local paper The Citizen

    Local press has shown intense interest in the case. South African newspaper The Citizen refers to it as "The Oscar Show".

     
  16.  
    08:34:

    Oscar Pistorius's brother Carl, sister Aimee and a handful other relatives have also attended court, AFP reports.

     
  17.  
    08:39: The BBC's Milton Nkosi, inside the court

    tweets: "Oscar Pistorius has just arrived in court! He walked passed Reeva's mum to take his seat. He had a cushion with him +has neutral expression."

     
  18.  
    08:45:

    The judge sitting on this case is known for handing down particularly tough sentences. She is also running late - the trial, scheduled to start at 8:00 GMT (10:00 local time) has yet to start.

     
  19.  
    08:45:

    Mr Pistorius has continued with his training, despite his impending court case.

    Mr Pistorius training after the death of his girlfriend
     
  20.  
    08:46: Hazel in London

    tweets: I know it won't happen but I wish the world would remember that the #Pistorius trial is about justice for a dead woman; nothing else matters

     
  21.  
    08:49:

    Oscar Pistorius' brother Carl Pistorius battled through a media scrum to get to court.

    Oscar Pistorius' brother Carl Pistorius
     
  22.  
    08:53: The BBC's Kate Forbes

    tweets: "The strain really shows on Oscar's face. He looks drawn and tired. #OscarPistorius #Reeva"

     
  23.  
    08:52:

    Judge Mesipa - who is hearing the case - is a former journalist, and an "exceedingly hardworking thorough person, very, very fair. Oscar must be very pleased that he has got a judge of that sort of standing", says local reporter in South Africa, Jean-Jacques Cornish

     
  24.  
    08:53: Nick Williams in the UK

    tweets: "Media circus commences with the Pistorius trial...don't know how it could be fair with that. Though it doesn't look good for Oscar."

     
  25.  
    08:56:

    Mr Pistorius' family have turned out to court to support him.

    Pistorius family members sit in court
     
  26.  
    08:57:

    If there are no objections, some of the 107 witnesses in the case may be called today, says local South African journalist Jean-Jacques Cornish outside of court, while proceedings are waiting to start.

     
  27.  
    08:58: Australia's Channel Nine journalist, Tom Steinfort

    tweets: "Pistorius furiously scribbling notes during delay - has avoided eye contact with Reeva's family throughout."

     
  28.  
    09:03:

    Reeva Steenkamp's mother June Steenkamp is also at the high court in Pretoria.

    Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June Steenkamp, arriving at court
     
  29.  
    09:08: BBC Correspondent Andrew Harding

    @BBCAndrewH gives a reason for the delay to the start of proceedings tweets: "Court official says judge ready but problem with translation service. One interpreter absent."

     
  30.  
    09:11: Wall Street Journal journalist, Devon Maylie,

    tweets: "A woman has been asked to leave the courtroom. She disrupted bail hearing before because she believes #Pistorius isn't mentally sound."

     
  31.  
    09:15: Ben Morris in Cheltenham, UK

    tweets: "Feeling very uncomfortable with the sensationalising of the Pistorius media coverage."

     
  32.  
    09:15:

    ANC Women's League are singing and chanting outside the court, they have a campaign against violence against women.

     
  33.  
    09:19: Sky News correspondent, Alex Crawford,

    tweets: #OscarPistorius Both families have now left court in the interim

     
  34.  
    09:21:

    When proceedings do resume, the charges against Oscar Pistorius will be read out and his plea will be reiterated. There are three hi-tech cameras inside the courtroom, which are not manned by people. The judge has the power to turn them off at any time.

     
  35.  
    09:23:

    While proceedings are yet to begin, here are five facts about Oscar Pistorius:

    • He had his lower legs amputated at the age of 11 months, having been born without a fibula in either leg

    • His parents were advised that having the amputation done before he had learned to walk would be less traumatic

    • In June 2003, he shattered his knee playing rugby and on the advice of doctors took up track running to aid his rehabilitation

    • He made history in London 2012 by becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympics after winning long legal battle

    • He has won six Paralympic gold medals, including three at the Beijing Games

     
  36.  
    09:28:

    Oscar Pistorius was just 17 when he won his first Paralympic gold medal. Read more about the South African's rise to sporting glory.

     
  37.  
    09:31: SABC News Online in South Africa

    tweets: "The murder trial of Olympian Oscar Pistorius is expected to started shortly after being delayed due to the unavailability of an interpreter."

     
  38.  
    09:32: Sky News correspondent, Alex Crawford,

    tweets: "#OscarPistorius We're told the interpreter arrived at court, saw the melee, burst into tears and said she couldnt do it."

     
  39.  
    09:33:

    Ms Steenkamp was a well-known figure in her own right. Read more about the model and celebrity here.

    Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius
     
  40.  
    09:34:

    The trial has started.

     
  41.  
    09:35:

    The judge begins with initial "housekeeping," and apologises for the delay.

     
  42.  
    09:35:

    Judge Mespia is swearing in court assessors

     
  43.  
    09:39:

    To a separate charge of unlawfully discharging a firearm through the open sun roof of a car, Mr Pistorius pleads not guilty.

     
  44.  
    09:40:

    With such such strong feelings about whether Mr Pistorius is guilty or not, there have inevitably been questions as to whether South Africa's legal system is reliable.

     
  45.  
    09:43:

    South African trials do not have juries and are instead decided by a judge and two assessors - advisors who can overrule the judge. They were sworn in at the start of the trial.

     
  46.  
    09:47:

    Defence lawyer reiterates Mr Pistorius' position. "I believe an intruder entered my home," he says.

     
  47.  
    09:47:

    The star sprinter pleaded "not guilty, my lady" to the charge he "unlawfully and intentionally did kill" his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year.

     
  48.  
    09:50: Model, Adeola Ariyo,

    tweets: This will be quite emotional as I knew Reeva. Watching the trial with an open mind. #Pistorius

     
  49.  
    09:51:

    One of Reeva Steenkamp's closest friends, Gwyn Guscott, explained her fears and hopes ahead of the trial.

     
  50.  
    09:52:

    Mr Pistorius' defence lawyer Barry Roux is setting out the the Paralympian's defence. Mr Roux says: "I approached the bathroom armed with my firearm so I could defend Reeva and I believed Reeva was still in bed."

     
  51.  
    09:55:

    Defence lawyer Barry Roux says the prosecution case is "not supported by the objective facts". He adds that the prosecution has "no evidence to prove the alleged argument" took place between Mr Pistorius and Reeva.

    "There was no argument," he says.

     
  52.  
    09:56:

    "I deny this allegation in the strongest terms, because there was no argument," defence lawyer Mr Roux says.

     
  53.  
    09:57:

    Judge Masipa was once, many years ago, a crime reporter.

    The judge in the case
     
  54.  
    09:58:

    Barry Roux, for the defence, says that Mr Pistorius admits having ammunition he was not permitted to keep. That does not change his "not guilty" plea to the specific charge related to the possession of unlicensed ammunition though.

    Barry Roux, lawyer for the defence
     
  55.  
    10:03: The BBC's Andrew Harding

    tweets: "Pistorius team straight on offensive - questioning reliability of state's case and witness at bail application."

     
  56.  
    10:04:

    Defence team claim evidence has been contaminated and disturbed.

     
  57.  
    10:08: BBC's Andrew Harding

    tweets: "'Inadmissible attempt at assassination of my character' - Pistorius lawyer predicting prosecution tactics..."

     
  58.  
    10:11: BBC Andrew's Harding from Pistorius courtroom

    tweets: "Prosecutor Nel going through various bits of evidence which are not being contested. The longer the list, the shorter the trial?"

     
  59.  
    10:13:

    There appear to be quite a few typing errors on the court documents. Requests made for errant words be deleted.

     
  60.  
    10:15:

    First witness begins to give her evidence and is not shown on TV. The audio broadcast continues.

     
  61.  
    10:14:

    Prosecution says that Pistorius "shot and killed the deceased with direct intent".

     
  62.  
    10:16:

    The witness is asked questions in English but gives her answers in Afrikaans, which is then translated by a court reporter.

     
  63.  
    10:17:

    Michelle Burger is the first witness, her face not shown.

     
  64.  
    10:18:

    The judge made notes as Barry Roux made his strident defence of Mr Pistorius.

    The judge, making notes
     
  65.  
    10:19: Mirror journalist, Lucy Thornton,

    tweets: Reeva's mum June tearful as pros submit pictures of post mortem#Pistorius

     
  66.  
    10:18:

    Michelle Burger says : "Just after three I woke up from a woman's terrible screams."

    "I sat upright in bed," she says.

     
  67.  
    10:20:

    The witness Ms Burger says she called security after she heard shots.

     
  68.  
    10:20:

    Michelle Burger tells court: "She screamed terribly and she yelled for help.

    "Then I also heard a man screaming for help. Three times he yelled for help."

    "I took my cell phone and then I dialled for security."

     
  69.  
    10:25:

    The witness says she heard four shots: an initial shot, then a pause, then three more shots in succession.

     
  70.  
    10:28:

    Michelle Burger, the first witness giving evidence says: "My lady it was a confusing evening because I was sleeping and then I was awake."

     
  71.  
    10:29: Simon Pearce in Staffordshire, UK

    tweets: "I'm sorry but there's just something not right about televised Court proceedings. #Pistorius"

     
  72.  
    10:30:

    Witness is now being shown an aerial photograph of the area of where she lives.

     
  73.  
    10:35: Milton Nkosi

    tweets: "Witness Michelle Burger lives 177m from Pistorius home on a neighbouring gated estate. Now showing court her balcony' proximity to Oscar's"

     
  74.  
    10:35:

    Michelle Burger says she had windows open because her property did not have air conditioning

     
  75.  
    10:35:

    The witness says "It was very traumatic for me. You could hear blood curdling screams."

     
  76.  
    10:38:

    A little earlier, Ms Burger broke down while speaking, to total silence in court.

     
  77.  
    10:37:

    Talking about what she did the following day after she heard gunfire, she told the court: "I went to work like any other day. I called a friend. I told her the story. I told her about the woman's terrible screams and the gunshots that I heard. Also I wanted to find out if someone had died."

     
  78.  
    10:45:

    Ms Burger is now explaining why she did not initially report what she heard to authorities. She said she decided to come forward after hearing of other witnesses who lived further from Mr Pistorius' home than she did. Saying "we are not media people" she explains she wanted to do it privately, but then the police paid her a visit.

     
  79.  
    10:47:

    Proceedings have stopped for an early lunch break.

     
  80.  
    10:49: Leanne Staebler in Cape Town, South Africa

    tweets: Interpreter is not helping with making us "english" speaking folk to understand.. Lots of misunderstanding of what is being said #OscarTrial

     
  81.  
    10:51:

    Defence lawyer Barry Roux, here speaking with Oscar Pistorius before the trial, has a fearsome reputation in South Africa.

    Defence lawyer Barry Roux speaking with Oscar Pistorius
     
  82.  
    10:57:

    On the other team, Gerrie Nel - considered South Africa's top state prosecutor - is also known as a tough courtroom fighter. He is nicknamed "the bulldog" for his tenacity.

    Lawyer Gerrie Nel
     
  83.  
    11:09:

    A commentary by Verashni Pillay in South Africa's Mail & Guardian focuses on what the writer says is the disparity of justice in South Africa. "The Oscar Pistorius murder trial will get the best treatment by the justice system and media - unlike murder cases involving ordinary South Africans," she writes.

    "The poorest in the country are systematically disadvantaged by our legal system and conviction rates for femicide are dramatically low thanks in part to a badly-trained detective force," she says. "The Pistorius trial, which appeared to have been fast-tracked through the system, will face none of these challenges that other murders featuring people who are not celebrities [face]." - via BBC Monitoring.

     
  84.  
    11:10:

    "He [Mr Pistorius] is tense and obviously nervous and stressed, but a whole lot more composed than he was during his bail hearings," says local South African journalist Jean-Jacques Cornish talking about the first part of the proceedings.

     
  85.  
    11:26:

    Earlier outside the court, a group from the ANC's Women's League held a demonstration in support of women's rights.

    Outside the court, a group from the ANC's Women's League
     
  86.  
    11:27:

    Sporting the headline "Reeva is not alone," South Africa's The Times focuses on what is says is the rising incidence of deadly violence against women in the country. "By the time Oscar Pistorius steps out of the dock in the Pretoria High Court today, at least two women will have been shot and killed in South Africa," says a front-page article. "Once his three-week murder trial is over, about 63 mothers, wives, girlfriends, fiancés and daughters will have been shot dead - many of them by their partner," it adds. - via BBC Monitoring

     
  87.  
    11:41:
    Lois, Arnold and Aimee Pistorius at the Pretoria High Court on the opening day of the trial

    Pictures have come in of family members Lois, Arnold and Aimee Pistorius at the Pretoria High Court listening to this morning's proceedings.

     
  88.  
    11:48:
    Oscar Pistorius

    The medal-winning athlete is pictured taking a sip of water while listening to proceedings so far.

     
  89.  
    12:00:

    Betting company Paddy Power are offering a "Money-Back Special" on the Oscar Pistorius trial. Punters will get their money back if he is found not guilty. It has come in for fierce criticism from some quarters and prompted a campaign to make them remove the offer and donate any money made to charities supporting victims of domestic violence. Known for courting publicity with unusual stunts, it is not the company's first brush with controversy.

     
  90.  
    12:04: Breaking News

    The trial is continuing after lunch, the defence are now cross-examining Michelle Burger.

     
  91.  
    12:09:

    There is now a dispute about the translation of the Ms Burger's testimony.

     
  92.  
    12:10:

    Neighbour of Oscar Pistorius Michelle Burger and her husband gave separate accounts to the police - Ms Burger says.

    "I am honest in front of the court, and my husband will also be honest in front of court," she said.

     
  93.  
    12:14:

    Pushed on a difference between her account and her husband's, Ms Berger insists she cannot speak on behalf of her husband, whose statement appears to say he heard a different number of shots.

     
  94.  
    12:15:

    "The statement that I gave is precisely how I heard it," said Michelle Burger.

    Pistorius' defence team are now quizzing her over why she described the events as a "confusing evening".

    "What was confusing?" said defence lawyer Barry Roux.

     
  95.  
    12:16:

    Explaining why it was, in her words "a confusing evening," Ms Burger explains - in English - that "The fear in that woman's voice is difficult to explain to the court."

     
  96.  
    12:18:

    Mr Roux has questioned whether Michelle Burger is comfortable with the way her words are being interpreted from Afrikaans to English.

     
  97.  
    12:23:

    Mr Roux is now asking about Michelle Burger's chronology of events.

    Ms Burger said: "I did not note with which shots there were screams. But I can testify that I heard the shots and then during the shots I heard the woman screaming."

    "There were four shots and I heard a voice just afterwards, and just afterwards was the last time I heard a voice."

     
  98.  
    12:24: Freeman in Malawi

    tweets: "This trial is interesting. Arguments and counter arguments. Cross examination at its best. #OscarTrial #Pistorius #channel199"

     
  99.  
    12:24:

    The order in which the witness heard shots and Ms Steenkamp's screams is now the focus of the defence's questioning, which is focussing on apparent uncertainties in Ms Burger's testimony.

     
  100.  
    12:25:

    Ms Burger is occasionally correcting the interpreters' words and helping her translate certain parts of her testimony.

     
  101.  
    12:26:

    "Your statement contradicts what you are saying today," insists Mr Roux, audibly raising his voice and demanding clarity.

     
  102.  
    12:31:

    Defence barrister Mr Roux continues to press Ms Burger over what came first screams, gun shots, or both.

    "I was woken up by a woman's petrified screams then I heard her call for help, then I heard a man call for help three times.

    "I heard her screaming sometime during the shots, and shortly after the shots," Ms Burger said.

    She described the female screams as "petrified" "blood curdling" and "something that leaves you cold".

    "I thought they were being attacked," she said.

     
  103.  
    12:31: The BBC's Andrew Harding

    tweets: "witness: 'the screaming went very fast… i didn't sit there with a stop-watch… but heard petrified screaming (during and just after) gunshots'"

     
  104.  
    12:32:

    The witness is now answering the questions directly, and emphatically, in English. Answers the defence is now challenging vigorously.

     
  105.  
    12:35:

    The court has adjourned briefly as the defence have failed to provide three copies of a particular document for the judge and the two assessors.

     
  106.  
    12:33:

    Watch footage from the morning part of the trial here, in which Mr Pistorius vigorously denied the charges.

     
  107.  
    David Smith, Guardian,

    tweets: #Pistorius still looking down, writing detailed notes. June Steenkamp looking morose.

     
  108.  
    12:43: Andrew Harding, BBC News,

    tweets: "Short break. I sense Barry Roux poised to highlight differences between witness sworn statement and her testimony in #oscarpistorius court."

     
  109.  
    12:44:

    An editorial in the Pretoria News says "Oscar is in the dock, but SA is on trial". "It is not only Pistorius under scrutiny but also South Africa, its levels of crime and violence, and its judicial system... The scrutiny of the international media could turn to South Africa's trauma as measured in levels of crime and violence, fear and distrust of a society still in transition from a brutal past," it says. (BBC Monitoring)

     
  110.  

    The trial has restarted, after its short break.

     
  111.  
    12:45:

    Key moments of the trial so far are summarised here.

     
  112.  
    12:48: Andrew Harding, BBC News,

    tweets: "Judge returns, slowly, and offers the court a rather gentle, formal bow. Someone in court fails to stand up fast enough. Shout from official"

     
  113.  
    12:50:

    Neighbour Ms Berger is continuing with her testimony, and is getting cross-examined by Mr Roux (defence).

     
  114.  
    Karyn Maughan, from eNCA news,

    tweets: Roux: you said in your statement that you heard the woman "scream", no mention of screams, bloodcurdling etc #OscarTrial @eNCAnews

     
  115.  
    12:53:

    Mr Roux, defence lawyer, is claiming that the evidence Ms Burger is giving is "much more dramatic" in court than it is in her original police statement.

     
  116.  
    13:00:

    The witness has been asked to leave the court while the prosecutor verbalises an objection to Mr Roux's line of questioning.

    The prosecutor said: "I understand what Mr Roux is doing... we have to be fair to the witness."

     
  117.  
    13:02:

    Witness Ms Burger has been brought back into the courtroom.

     
  118.  
    Khalid, in Lusaka, Zambia,

    emails: How South African courts are run can't just be defined by how this one case is handled while the whole world is viewing.

     
  119.  
    13:14:

    Ms Burger continues: "I was not doubting that they were being attacked in their house." "We thought it was a house break"

    Mr Roux presses her on when she went to sleep after hearing the shots and screams.

    "I sleep after traumatic events," Ms Burger says, explaining that her sister's baby died recently and that she slept after that news too.

     
  120.  
    13:18: James Rothwell, Telegraph,

    tweets: "#Pistorius defence suggesting Michelle Burger confused cricket bat/door banging with gunshots but she's firmly standing her ground."

     
  121.  
    13:21:

    Defence lawyer Mr Roux is pushing Ms Berger hard on why she could not hear the sound of a door being smashed with a cricket bat.

    The witness is standing her ground, despite challenges from Mr Roux that she is too inexperienced around guns to distinguish the difference between the two sounds - the gun shots being one sound, and a cricket bat hitting the door being the other.

    Ms Burger says: "I know what a gun shot sounds like."

     
  122.  
    13:36:

    Ms Burger said she "started with music very young" and is well adapted at listening to rhythms. She divulges this information after being pressed by defence lawyer Mr Roux to confirm that she heard four shots.

     
  123.  
    13:37: BBC Correspondent Andrew Harding

    tweets: "lawyer outside was telling me that the judge is being quite lenient with Roux and Nel, allowing them to speculate etc. points to long trial."

     
  124.  
    13:41:
    Oscar Pristorius

    Mr Pistorius is pictured taking notes during his trial.

     
  125.  
    13:47:

    The trial has adjourned for the day. It will resume on Tuesday at 07:30 GMT.

     
  126.  
    13:49:

    This video explains how the Pistorius trial has renewed South Africa's gun ownership debate.

     
  127.  
    Jameson, in Lusaka, Zambia,

    emails: How I wish every case was televised in this way.

     
  128.  
    Jacques Steenkamp, SABC News,

    tweets: #OscarPistorius being escorted from court by a group of friend. #sabcnews

     
  129.  
    14:20:

    That brings to an end our live coverage of the first day of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Please stay with the BBC News website for all the latest updates on world events.

     

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