Pistorius trial: Live Report

  • World
  • Monday, 03 Mar 2014

Pretoria (AFP) - 13:28 GMT - "100 percent convinced" - "I'm 100 percent convinced that I heard gunshots that evening," says witness Michelle Burger while being grilled by Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux over whether the sounds she heard were shots, reports AFP's Justine Gerardy.

"I'm more than 170 metres away so I could only hear the shots, not the cricket bat bang.

"I thought it was a house break. I only heard shots and a terrible scream."

13:22 GMT - Definitely gunshots? - Defence advocate Barry Roux is questioning Michelle Burger on whether the sound she heard was a gunshot or whether it could have been a cricket bat against a door, writes AFP's Stephanie Findlay.

"In your mind, you hear gunshots, how can you be an expert to say that those are definitely gunshots and not another sound resembling gunshots, that would be a boom, boom, boom," says Roux.

13:16 GMT - Witness flustered - The state's witness Michelle Burger is wearing a black suit with a skirt, half her hair is tied back with a clip, writes AFP correspondent Stephanie Findlay.

After an hour of being cross-examined by Roux, Burger appears flustered by Roux's questions: "I'm not going to change my testimony," she says to the judge, gesturing with her hands.

13:11 GMT - "Help, help, help" - "What I heard was help, help, help," the state's witness Michelle Burger tells the court in Pretoria, reports AFP's Justine Gerardy, describing hearing a man's shouts after the woman's screams.

12:57 GMT - "Blood curdling" - Defence advocate Barry Roux is comparing the account given by state's witness Michelle Burger in court today and what is written in her original statement to police after hearing the shots.

Roux says she did not use "blood curdling" screams in her statement to investigating officer captain Mike van Aardt and simply said she heard a woman scream.

12:50 GMT - Worn look - During a brief adjournment, Oscar Pistorius turns around and looks at the gallery behind them, writes AFP reporter Johannes Myburgh.

His sister Aimée has a worn look, while his brother Carl is stern and slightly bored. Oscar stares to the front.

12:36 GMT - "Climax of her shouts" - The state's witness Michelle Burger describes hearing the petrified screams while in bed as the "most helpless feeling I've ever had in my life", AFP's Justine Gerardy reports.

"Because of the climax of her shouts, I knew something terrible was happening in that house, I thought they were being attacked in their house, you only shout like that if your life is really threatened," said Burger.

12:29 GMT - "Fading away" - The state's witness Michelle Burger is still being questioned about her recollection of hearing the shots fired on February 14 last year, writes AFP reporter Stephanie Findlay.

"Just a moment after the shots, I heard a women's voice fading away," said Burger.

"Just after the shots she screamed and it faded away with the last shot," she says, clarifying her words with the interpreter.

"Just after the last shot I heard a scream," says Burger.

"Was it a continuous scream?" says defence advocate Barry Roux.

"I didn't sit there with a stop watch," says Burger. "I heard petrified screaming before the gun shots, and just after the gun shots."

12:20 GMT - "I know him to be honest" - Pistorius watches the first witness Michelle Burger give her testimony, sometimes furrowing his brow, at one point tapping on the dock to get the attention of one of his lawyers, writes AFP reporter Stephanie Findlay.

"My husband and I are together for twenty years and I know him to be honest," says Burger.

"Was your husband right when he said five or six shots?" presses defence advocate Barry Roux.

"I'm certain I have heard four gun shots, I don't speak on my husband's behalf," says Burger.

12:16 GMT - "There were four gunshots" - Pistorius defence advocate Barry Roux's questioning witness Michelle Burger about the number of gunshots she heard in the early hours of February 14, 2013, reports AFP's Sibongile Khumalo.

"I heard gunshots after I woke up, there were four gunshots," said Burger.

She says her husband, who is also a witness, said in his statement he heard 4, 5 or 6 gunshots.

"I heard four," Burger says. "My husband said there were lots of shots, 4,5,6 gunshots. My husband's testimony is his own."

12:09 GMT - "Petrified screams" - The state's witness Michelle Burger is sticking to her testimony under cross-examination, reports AFP correspondent Justine Gerardy.

"I cannot understand how I could clearly hear a woman scream and Mr Pistorius could not hear tha," says Burger.

"I agree that I heard four gunshots and that I heard a man screaming for help three times, but what was left out was the petrified screams of the woman.

"I heard the petrified screams and then there were the gunshots."

12:03 GMT - Voice clear and loud - "Did you understand my question?" says advocate Barry Roux, questioning the state's first witness, Michelle Burger, reports AFP's Stephanie Findlay.

Roux, his voice clear and loud in the courtroom, asks Burger if she thought Pistorius was lying during his bail hearing.

"I did not understand why Pistorius did not hear the screams," says Burger, unfazed by Roux's tough questioning style.

11:58 GMT - Witness cross-examined - "We're back. Advocate Barry Roux cross-examining witness Dr Burger," AFP's Johannes Myburgh writes via his official Twitter handle @johannesmyburgh.

11:49 GMT - "Both sides of the matter" - A view of the trial from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Reeva Steenkamp's home town and where her parents still live, via AFP correspondent Max Matavire.

Matavire writes that Theresa Deboer, a bar-lady at Phoenix Hotel, the only venue where AFP found one of the many television sets screening the murder trial, said people must not judge as it is only Pistorius who knows what happened that night.

"As an outsider you have to look at both sides of the matter," says Deboer, who said she knew Pistorius' father.

"I know what happened is sad and tragic but its only him who knows the truth. Reeva was a beautiful young girl just starting her life.

"She worked hard to be where she was and to have her life taken just like that is unfortunate."

11:36 GMT - Single judge - A single judge, Thokozile Masipa, is presiding in the case at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

South Africa's courts do not have juries, but Judge Masipa has appointed two senior advocates to help her in her decision.

The state has a exhaustive list of 107 witnesses that includes the defendant's former girlfriends, though it is unlikely everyone will be called to testify.

11:24 GMT - Policing cameramen - "The junior defence lawyer sits stuck in #pistoriustrial tech room, policing that cameras do nothing untoward", writes AFP correspondent Johannes Myburgh via his official Twitter handle @johannesmyburgh.

11:15 GMT - "I deny the allegation" - Some full quotes from Pistorius's explanation of his 'not guilty' plea, in a statement read by his lawyer to the courtroom.

"The state has contended that I unlawfully and intentionally killed Reeva Steenkamp. This allegation is denied in the strongest terms, in fact at the time of the tragic accident which led to Reeva's death, we were in a loving relationship.

"Whilst I admit that I inflicted the fatal gunshot wounds to Reeva, this occurrence was indeed an accident in that I had mistakenly believed that an intruder or intruders had entered my home and posed an imminent threat to Reeva and me.

"I respectfully state that no truthful evidence can ever be tended that I fired the shots 'because of the argument'.

"I deny this allegation in the strongest terms because there was no argument. The allegation that I wanted to shoot (or kill) Reeva cannot be further from the truth."

10:50 GMT - Aerial photograph - The state's witness Michelle Burger points out key areas of the estate where she lived and of Pistorius' neighbouring estate in an aerial photograph shown on flatscreen TVs around the courtroom, AFP's Johannes Myburgh reports.

The aerial photograph shows the two estates next to each other. Each estate has numerous luxury houses. Red numbers point out different sites.

Another picture shows the view from Burger's balcony towards the neighbouring estate, and what the prosecution identifies as Pistorius's bathroom window. It's quite far away.

"It was something you can't explain to someone else, how anxious those screams were," Burger says.

10:47 GMT - "House break in" - "I thought it was a house break in, we thought someone was being attacked at Silver Woods Estate (name of Pistorius estate)," the state's witness Michelle Burger tells the court, reports AFP's Sibongile Khumalo.

The next morning she told a friend about what she had heard and asked her to find out what had happened.

10:41 GMT - Stares intensely - Reeva Steenkamp's mother June Steenkamp stares intensely at Burger as she gives her testimony, then down, AFP's Johannes Myburgh reports from the courtroom.

Pistorius looks at Burger, listens a bit, then takes notes.

10:36 GMT - "Heard four shots" - The state's witness Michelle Burger tells the courtroom she heard four shots in the early hours of February 14, 2013.

"There was a longer pause between the first and second shots than between the second and third and third and fourth," Burger says.

10:31 GMT - "She screamed a lot" - "She screamed a lot and yelled for help," witness Burger tells the courtroom in her testimony recalling the night of February 14, 2013.

"Then I heard a man screaming for help. He yelled three times.

"My husband took the phone and explained that people at the next estate were being attacked in their homes and someone needed to go check.

"My husband went back onto the balcony. I stayed in bed. I heard screams again. It was worse than before. She was very scared.

"It was like a climax. I knew something terrible was about to happen."

10:17 GMT - First witness - The state calls its first witness, Michell Burger from the Silver Stream Estate outside Pretoria.

Burger is in her late 20s with dark blonde hair, AFP's Johannes Myburgh reports from the courtroom.

She will testify in Afrikaans will not be filmed giving evidence, the judge rules.

10:16 GMT - "Intent to kill" - State prosecutor Gerrie Nel has acknowledged that there were no witness during the incident, AFP's Sibongile Khumalo reports from the courtroom.

However, he says that the accused's version of events during bail application and today cannot be reasonably true and should be rejected.

"The accused shot the deceased with the intent to kill," Nel says.

10:08 GMT - Admits inflicting fatal wounds - Pistorius through his lawyer outlining the night of the shooting, denying charge of murder saying "we were in a loving relationship", AFP's Justine Gerardy reports.

Pistorius admits to inflicting the fatal wounds to Reeva, but believed intruders had entered his home.

He says state has no evidence to prove argument between the pair as alleged.

"The allegation that I wanted (or kill) Reeva cannot be further from the truth," Pistorius says in the statement through his lawyer.

09:50 GMT - Firearms charges - Oscar Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to three firearms charges, AFP's Justine Gerardy reports.

Pistorius was charged with contravening the country's firearms laws after he shot through the sunroof of the car of his former lover.

He also stands accused of recklessly discharging a firearm at a restaurant table in a manner that could have endangered other patrons.

The third charge relates to possession of ammunition without a permit.

09:41 GMT - Charge of murder - The state prosecutor reads out charge one of murder in which Oscar Pistorius "unlawfully and intentionally did kill" Reeva Steenkamp, AFP's Justine Gerardy reports.

The judge asks Pistorius if he understands the charge, he replies: "I do, I do my lady."

When asked how he pleads, he replies: "Not guilty, my lady".

09:31 GMT - Pistorius back in courtroom - Pistorius is back in the courtroom after leaving briefly, AFP's Johannes Myburgh writes from the courtroom. He still looking down but expressionless and is carrying a mobile phone and a pen.

Reeva Steenkamp's mother June went outside through a different exit before he came back in.

09:22 GMT - Trial delayed - The trial has been delayed to 9.30 GMT because of a problem with one of two Afrikaans-English interpreters, an official says, AFP's Johannes Myburgh reports from the courtroom.

08:59 GMT - Inside things are also happening as Anna-Marie is escorted out by court officials.

As she leaves she tells journalists: "I know Oscar's character. I knew hime before this."

08:58 GMT - Outside the court the ANC women's league are holding a demonstration.

08:57 GMT - Lawyers have left the courtroom.

Pistorius remains seated in the dock, head bowed.

08:49 GMT - An unusual woman named Anna-Marie, who has tried several times to delay proceedings, is in court today, Johannes Myburgh reports.

She only goes by one name, and at the bail hearing last year asked the court to send Pistorius for psychiatric evaluation.

She said at the time that Pistorius's deceased mother had appeared to her in a dream.

Anna-Marie, a blonde woman in her fifties, is wearing a black toga today. Previous judges have angrily dismissed her attempts to interrupt the trial.

08:42 GMT - Speaking in the courtroom Jaco Van Der Westhuizen says he is there because he just wants to support Pistorius "emotionally. I feel as a Christian he's innocent."

08:33 GMT - In an interview with Britain's Daily Mail published on Sunday, the victim's mother June said she wanted "to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva."

08:29 GMT - The only buzz is coming from the public gallery where spectators are chatting as everyone waits for Judge Tholozile Masipa to open the trial which is now half an hour behind schedule.

08:25 GMT - From inside the courtroom my colleague Johannes Myburgh reports that the families of the victim and accused are ignoring each other and just sitting quietly, with a little subdued talk now and then.

Pistorius spent some time talking with his lawyer Barry Roux, before taking his seat.

He didn't look at the public gallery or his family.

His hair was cut shorter than his last court appearance.

The courtroom is packed mostly with local and international journalists, typing away on laptops, cellphones, and electronic tablets.

Lawyers chatted earlier, but closer to starting time sat down. An aide wheeled in a a set of at least ten ringbinder files for the defense.

08:19 GMT - My colleague Claire Price says Pistorius tried to fool the media, by walking in the front door after his family had all arrived by a side door, drawing attention.

08:15 GMT - Pistorius is looking healthy and sporting a tan. Over Xmas he went on vacation to Mozambique, a country famous for beautiful seas and delicious seafood.

The court is apparently not proving as comfortable as Pistorius, sipping from a bottle of water, has placed a yellow-green cushion on his wooden seat in the dock.

07:58 GMT - This is the first time that Pistorius has come face-to-face with his girlfriend's mother, who just looked on.

After taking his seat Pistorius, who is wearing a noticeably large silver watch, started writing on a note pad.

07:52 GMT - Pistorius slipped into the courtroom through a side entrance, wearing a black suit and tie with a white shirt.

He looked down, a nervous expression on his face, fetched a cushion from someone on the far side of the accused stand and sat down.

07:49 GMT - Oscar Pistorius arrives at court for his murder trial

07:40 GMT - Reporting from the courtroom, my colleague Johannes Myburgh says Pistorius's brother Carl, sister Aimee and a handful other relatives have all arrived, looking subdued.

They sat down in the front bench left of the courtroom, across the aisle from the Steenkamps. The families did not interact.

Reeva's 'adoptive' Johannesburg family the Myers are also here.

Lawyers for both sides, Barry Roux for the defence and Gerrie Nel for the prosecution, are also in court.

07:26 GMT - As the media waits outside the courtroom for the defendant himself to arrive, it is worth noting that for some the trial is not just about Pistorius, but also about South Africa's legal system.

Last week Judge Dunstan Mlambo said the "system is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable."

The trial he hoped would dispel these "unfounded perceptions."

07:16 GMT - Pistorius's sister Aimee arrives at the courtroom and goes in looking straight ahead, apparently unphased by a mass of cameras in her face, my colleague Stephanie Findlay reports from Pretoria.

07:08 GMT - The prosecution is expected to argue this account is a fabrication designed to conceal Pistorius' guilt, while pointing to a history of reckless behaviour with firearms.

The state is likely to argue that Pistorius on two occasions fired a pistol in public, once through the sunroof of a moving car and months later at a busy restaurant in Johannesburg.

He is also accused of possessing unlicensed ammunition.

Above all they will try to show that regardless of who was behind the toilet door, Pistorius acted recklessly.

07:03 GMT - "Deeply in love" - According to Pistorius's account of events, on the night of February 13, 2013 the couple had a "quiet dinner together" at his home on 286 Bushwillow Street, in the tightly secured Silverlakes estate near Pretoria.

"She was doing her yoga exercises and I was in bed watching television. My prosthetic legs were off. We were deeply in love and I could not be happier," Pistorius said in a bail affidavit.

In the "early morning hours" Pistorius woke up and went on to the balcony to fetch a fan and close the blinds.

"I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom. I felt a sense of terror rushing over me," Pistorius recalled.

Believing Steenkamp was in bed, Pistorius grabbed his 9mm pistol from under his bed and headed for the toilet. He "fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police."

Soon after he realised Steenkamp was not in bed, he rushed back to the bathroom and used a cricket bat to break open the toilet door, only to find her "slumped over but alive."

"I tried to render the assistance to Reeva that I could, but she died in my arms."

06:57 GMT - June Steenkamp walked into the courtroom with a handful of other people. Wearing black, she kept her expression neutral except for a slight frown.

06:52 GMT - Victim's family - My colleague Andrew Beatty reports that Reeva Steenkamp's mother June has arrived in the court room and has taken her seat in the front row of the public gallery

06:37 GMT - The "Blade Runner" - The "Blade Runner" steps into court barely 18 months after hurtling across the finishing line in record time to win gold at the London Paralympics, securing the adoration of millions and his place in sporting history.

He was the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics and the Paralympics, winning medals at the Athens, Beijing and London games.

His fate now depends on a crack team of lawyers, forensics, ballistics and other experts who face South African state prosecutors still reeling from a protracted and humiliating bail hearing.

06:32 GMT - Reporting from the courtroom, my colleague Johannes Myburgh says Pistorius's brother Carl, sister Aimee and a handful other relatives arrived shortly after 9am local time, looking subdued.

They sat down in the front bench left of the courtroom, across the aisle from the Steenkamps. The families did not interact.

Reeva's 'adoptive' Johannesburg family the Myers are also here.

Lawyers for both sides, Barry Roux for the defence and Gerrie Nel for the prosecution, are also in court.

06:31 GMT - Pistorius trial - WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the trial of star Olympian Oscar Pistorius who faces a possible life sentence, accused of murdering his girlfriend in a Valentine's Day shooting that shocked the world.

Pistorius is expected to argue he shot his 29-year-old lover Reeva Steenkamp through a locked toilet door at his home believing she was an intruder.

The 27-year-old South African superstar, whose strength overcoming disability inspired millions, will appear in the dock at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to answer one charge of murder and three firearms charges.

The trial is slated to last three weeks, but will likely last longer.

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