Pistorius neighbour breaks down on stand after murder trial interrupted

For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night that the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.

PRETORIA, South Africa — For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night that the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.

Michelle Burger, a neighbour of Pistorius who took the stand on the second day of a trial watched around the world, remained calm through intense questioning by the chief defence lawyer. In a final exchange with the lead prosecutor on Tuesday, however, emotion washed over her as she recalled what she described as the terrified screams of a woman early on Valentine’s Day last year.

“When I’m in the shower, I relive her shouts,” Burger said in an apparent reference to her trauma just after the shooting, when a police captain took her statement. When Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked her about her emotions at the time, she said the experience was “quite raw” and her voice broke.

Nel asked her how she was coping now.

“I’m coping fine,” Burger insisted. “It’s been a year.”

Burger, a university lecturer, lives 177 metres (193 yards) from Pistorius’ house, where his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, died in what the runner said was an accident.

Burger testified that she heard a man and a woman shouting, then the sound of four gunshots. She said the woman’s screams continued during the gunshots and quickly faded away after the final one. She was the first witness called by the prosecution, which contends that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp after a loud argument.

Her testimony contradicts Pistorius’ account. He says he fired four times through the toilet cubicle door, hitting Steenkamp three times in the head, arm and hip or side area after thinking she was a dangerous intruder. He has pleaded not guilty.

The defence contends that Burger may have been asleep when the gunshots were fired, and then mistakenly thought she was hearing gunfire when in fact it was the sound of Pistorius breaking the toilet cubicle door with a cricket bat after realizing he had shot his girlfriend.

During cross-examination of Burger, chief defence lawyer Barry Roux suggested that she was mistaken in saying that she heard a woman screaming and that it was actually Pistorius shouting for help in a high voice after accidentally shooting Steenkamp.

Giving sometimes grisly details of the killing of the 29-year-old model, Roux said Steenkamp was shot in the head, which would have resulted in brain damage and “no cognitive function” and so she wouldn’t have been able to scream just after the last bullet struck, as Burger testified.

Roux said that an expert would later testify in the trial that “with the head shot, she (Steenkamp) would have dropped down immediately.”

Burger disagreed. “I heard her voice just after the last shot,” she said. “It faded away.”

Her husband, Charl Johnson, also testified that “the last scream faded moments after the last gunshot was fired.”

Burger also said that the man she heard — before the sound of the gunfire — was calling for help, a piece of testimony that muddied the prosecution’s narrative that Pistorius was the aggressor. Challenged by Roux, Burger speculated that perhaps the voice was that of Pistorius ridiculing Steenkamp’s calls for help. “Was it a mockery? I don’t know. I’m not Mr. Pistorius,” she said.

Pistorius, who faces a minimum of 25 years in prison without parole if convicted of premeditated murder, took notes during testimony and huddled with lawyers during adjournments. His collected demeanour contrasted with his sometimes distraught behaviour during a bail hearing last year, when he sobbed in court. At one point on Tuesday he covered his ears, but it wasn’t clear why.

Pistorius, 27, was born without fibula bones because of a congenital defect and his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old. He has run on carbon-fiber blades and was originally banned from competing against able-bodied peers because many argued that his blades gave him an unfair advantage. He was later cleared to compete. He is a multiple Paralympic medallist but he failed to win a medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

Steenkamp’s mother, June, said in a television interview that she did not want to live with bitterness.

“I’ve lost everything that’s important to me, and still, I can forgive. I can forgive,” she told NBC’s “Today” show. “One must forgive.”

June Steenkamp was in court Monday, hoping to look Pistorius in the eye. But, she said, Pistorius “never looked my way, or he didn’t have an opportunity to do that.”

Judge Thokozile Masipa will ultimately deliver the verdict and decide on any sentence. South Africa has no trial by jury.

Tuesday’s proceedings were interrupted when Masipa ordered an investigation into allegations that a South African television channel was broadcasting a photograph of Burger during her testimony — against a court order guaranteeing privacy to witnesses who request it.

“I am warning the media,” the judge said, “if you do not behave, you are not going to be treated with soft gloves by this court.”

Just Posted

Updated: SUV smashes through fences and deck in Anders

Driver taken to hospital after SUV veered off 30th Avenue into Anders

Art on Red Deer billboard a reminder of aboriginal women’s strength

Joane Cardinal-Schubert’s image is part of Resilience Project, shown from coast to coast

Red Deer’s new ‘equity co-ordinator’ will promote tolerance

Andrea Lacoursiere was hired by city with Alberta Human Rights funding

More bridge work this summer in Red Deer’s Coronation Park

The park’s north bridge is being rebuilt to ensure safety

Man badly injured in off-road vehicle collision on Saturday

Incident happened in Mountain View County about 10:50 p.m.

CFIA inspects after video shows pigs crammed into B.C. transport truck

The video shows pigs piled on top of one another in a transport truck on a “sweltering” hot day last week

Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber falls to Bryce Harper in Home Run Derby final

WASHINGTON — Nationals Park was eerily quiet late Monday when Kyle Schwarber… Continue reading

Lava crashes through roof of Hawaii tour boat, injuring 23

HONOLULU — An explosion caused by lava oozing into the ocean sent… Continue reading

Banff holds blessing ceremony with Indigenous elders before letting bison roam

BANFF, Alta. — Several Indigenous elders were flown by helicopter into the… Continue reading

Research expedition looks at unseen depths of Labrador Sea ecosystem

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Last summer, a team of scientists returned from… Continue reading

Protesters camped outside Saskatchewan legislature taking province to court

REGINA — Protesters camped outside the Saskatchewan legislature say they are taking… Continue reading

British PM accepts key amendments from hardline Brexiteers

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday accepted amendments to… Continue reading

‘City of icebergs:’ Study says 100s of Arctic glaciers shrinking, disappearing

The statistics in her recently published paper say it all: hundreds of… Continue reading

U.S. hits back with WTO challenge against Canada’s retaliatory tariffs

OTTAWA — The United States fired back Monday at the Canadian government’s… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month