Africa

Pistorius trial: Second neighbour heard fight

  • 4 March 2014
  • From the section Africa

A second witness at the murder trial of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has told a court in the capital Pretoria she was awoken by the sounds of a fight early on 14 February 2013.

Mr Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to intentionally killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

He shot dead the 29-year-old model and reality TV star at his home, saying he mistook her for an intruder.

Estelle Van Der Merwe, a neighbour, said the row had lasted about an hour.

"It seemed like somebody was involved in a fight," said Ms Van Der Merwe, who lives in the same gated Pretoria housing estate as the Paralympic athlete. "People were talking in loud voices."

The argument woke her at about 01:56 local time (23:56 GMT) and lasted about an hour. After that, she heard four loud sounds in succession.

Ms Van Der Merwe was the second witness to take the stand at the murder trial of Mr Pistorius, which began at the high court in on Monday.

The arrest of the 27-year-old double amputee and gold medal winner astounded South Africa.

'Screams'

For the first time in South Africa, parts of the trial are being televised live, although some witness testimony, including that of Ms Van Der Merwe, is being excluded from TV broadcasts.

However, the audio of the entire trial is being aired.

Mrs Van Der Merwe said she had been irritated by the noise of the argument and placed a pillow on her head "in hope of falling asleep again".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Oscar Pistorius blocks his ears as he concentrates on his notes on the second day of the trial
Image copyright AP
Image caption There is intense media interest in the trial
Image copyright AP
Image caption The country was stunned when the athlete shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp

Tuesday's hearing adjourned not long after the third witness, Charl Peter Johnson - husband to the first witness Michelle Burger - had taken the stand.

The second day of the trial began with defence lawyer Barry Roux quizzing Ms Burger about her account of hearing a woman's screams, a man calling for help and then four gunshots.

The BBC's Andrew Harding in court says the defence line was clear that as Ms Steenkamp was in a closed toilet with a closed window, the screams the witness said she heard could not have come from her.

Mr Pistorius was in the bathroom where the window was open so the screams must have come from him.

Mr Roux also suggested expert evidence would prove that Ms Steenkamp would have been unable to scream between shots.

When details of the bullets hitting her head were read out, Mr Pistorius's head dropped into his hands, our correspondent says.

At the start of proceedings on Monday, Mr Roux read out a statement from the athlete, giving his version of events of how Ms Steenkamp had died, saying he believed his girlfriend was in bed when he shot at the toilet door.

State prosecutors say Mr Pistorius planned the killing and shot Ms Steenkamp after a row.

If found guilty of premeditated murder, he could face life imprisonment.

He has also denied charges of illegally possessing ammunition.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Much of the case will depend on ballistic evidence from the scene of the shooting, correspondents say.

INTERACTIVE
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  • 1. Balcony

    × Balcony

    Mr Pistorius said in his statement at the start of the trial that he woke in the early hours and walked on his stumps to the balcony, pulled in two fans, closed the sliding door and drew curtains. He said that shortly before he had spoken to Reeva, who was in bed beside him.

    He said he rejected prosecution claims that a witness heard arguing coming from the house before the shooting.

  • 2. Bathroom window

    ×

    Mr Pistorius said he heard the bathroom window sliding open and believed that an intruder, or intruders, had entered the bathroom through a window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

    "Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom at the time I brought in the fans," he said.

    Mr Pistorius said he approached the bathroom armed with his firearm, to defend himself and his girlfriend, believing Ms Steenkamp was still in bed.

  • 3. Shooting

    ×

    Both sides agree four bullets were fired. Ms Steenkamp was hit three times.

    Mr Pistorius said he fired his weapon after hearing a noise in the toilet which he thought was the intruder coming out of the toilet to attack him and Ms Steenkamp.

    He said he was in a fearful state, knowing he was on his stumps and unable to run away or properly defend himself.

    Mr Pistorius said he rejected claims that he was on his prostheses when he shot at the door.

    A witness told the trial she woke to hear a woman screaming and a man shouting for help. She said that after the screams she heard four shots.

  • 4. Bedroom

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    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bedroom after shooting at the toilet door, still shouting for Reeva. Lifting himself up onto the bed, he felt over to the right hand side of it and noticed Ms Steenkamp was not there.

    Mr Pistorius said this was when he realised she could have been in the toilet.

  • 5. Toilet door

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    Mr Pistorius said he went back to the bathroom but the toilet was locked, so he returned to the bedroom, pulled on his prosthetic legs, turned on the lights before bashing in the toilet door with a cricket bat.

    Forensics expert Johannes Vermeulen told the court that the height of the marks on the door caused by the cricket bat suggest Mr Pistorius was on his stumps at the time.

  • 6. Emergency calls

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    Mr Pistorius's defence team say he then called security at the gated housing complex and a private paramedic service before carrying Ms Steenkamp downstairs.

    A security guard claimed it was the other way round, and he had called Mr Pistorius first after reports of gunfire. However, phone records shown to the court revealed Mr Pistorius called the estate manager at 3:19am, a minute later he called the ambulance service and at 3:21am he called estate security.

    A minute later he received an incoming call - estate security calling him back.

    According to police phone expert Francois Moller, Mr Pistorius called his friend Justin Divaris a short time later and just after 4:00am he called his brother Carl.

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