Pistorius lawyer challenges witness account of woman’s screams



PRETORIA, South Africa — Paralympian gold medalist Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial resumed with the defense attorney rejecting the testimony of the state’s first witness that she heard rising levels of emotion in a woman’s screams before she was shot.

Defense attorney Barry Roux said Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius, couldn’t have heard with any clarity the screams of a woman locked in a toilet 177 meters (194 yards) away, and he challenged her to a test. Burger insisted that her statement was accurate.

“When you heard that anxious screaming, why the sound would travel is because it was not in a locked toilet,” Roux said.

Double-amputee Pistorius, 27, pleaded not guilty Monday in the High Court in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, to purposefully shooting model Reeva Steenkamp at his home in the city on Valentine’s Day last year. Roux argued that it was a case of accidental death.

“I told them everything I heard, Burger said in response to a question from prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “The terrifying screams.”

Known as the Blade Runner because of his J-shaped prosthetic running blades, Pistorius has admitted to shooting Steenkamp three times while she was in his bathroom, believing she was an intruder. He also denied guilt for three separate firearms charges. Masipa will rule on the case because South Africa doesn’t have a jury system.

Proceedings were briefly adjourned when prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court that a picture of Burger was being shown on TV, saying it violated a condition of a court order that some witnesses could choose not to be filmed giving evidence. The presiding judge, Thokozile Matilda Masipa, ruled that no photographs may be shown of the witness.

Wearing a black suit jacket and a salmon-pink blouse, Burger was visibly distressed after learning that her image had been broadcast by Johannesburg-based eNCA. The channel denied any wrongdoing.

“I am warning the media, if you do not behave, you will not be treated with soft gloves by this court,” Masipa said.

Members of both families sat on front benches in the wood- paneled courtroom. Pistorius, who has been free on 1 million rand ($93,000) bail since February 2013, wore a dark suit and sat on the accused bench behind his legal team writing notes.

Burger is the first of more than 100 witnesses who may be called by the prosecution in a trial that will be broadcast live on radio and TV. Apart from the murder charge, Pistorius faces two counts of illegally firing a gun in public and one of illegally possessing ammunition.

The charges have derailed the running career of the winner of six Paralympic gold medals and cost Pistorius sponsorship deals with Nike and Luxottica Group’s Oakley. He was the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics Games in London in 2012.