Witness challenged over testimony in Pistorius murder trial   2014-03-04 00:54:52            

By Martin Williams

JOHANNESBURG, Mar. 3 (Xinhua) -- A neighbor who said she heard screams on the night South African Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend had her testimony challenged in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

On the first day of his murder trial, Pistorius pleaded not guilty to murdering girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He told the court he had been in love with the model.

His neighbor Michelle Burger, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, told the court she heard a woman screaming and a man shouting on the morning when Steenkamp was shot dead on Feb. 14 Valentine's Day, in 2013.

She also said she heard four shots, after which the screaming and shouting stopped.

However, she faced a grilling from Barry Roux, Pistorius's lead advocate, who sought to examine discrepancies between her earlier written statement to police and her evidence in court on Monday. These related to the sequence of the shots and screams.

Roux also noted that while Burger said she heard four shots, her husband heard more. He also said he had statements from other witnesses whose accounts of what they had heard differed from hers.

Burger's testimony also suffered after early difficulties with an interpreter, translating her Afrikaans replies into English. Midway through Monday afternoon she dispensed with the interpreter and provided her own answers in English.

The trial resumes on Tuesday.

Earlier, in a statement read to the court, the double-amputee athlete, known worldwide as the Blade Runner, denied he and Steenkamp had been arguing shortly before she died.

Pistorius, 27, admits he shot and killed Steenkamp in his luxury home at Silver Woods in the South African capital in the early hours of Feb. 14 2013. His advocate Kenny Oldwage told the court on Monday that Pistorius mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. She was locked in the bathroom of his home at the time of the shooting, with a cell phone in her possession.

Pistorius has often been depicted in South African media as an avid fan of guns. He routinely slept with a firearm and a cricket bat nearby, in order to defend himself.

On Monday he pleaded not guilty to several offences under South Africa's Firearms Act. These include discharging a firearm from a moving vehicle in 2012, discharging a firearm in plush Johannesburg restaurant on January 2013, and unlawfully having ammunition in his possession at his home

Both the prosecution and the defence acknowledge that Pistorius fired four shots through a locked bathroom door, hitting Steenkamp three times inside the bathroom.

During a bail application in 2013, South African state prosecutor Gerrie Nel claimed that Pistorius had put on his prosthetic legs, walked across his bedroom to the bathroom, and intentionally shot Steenkamp through the door. This interpretation has been challenged by the defence.

Pistorius maintains that he had not put on his prosthetics before shooting into the bathroom. He said he had thought Steenkamp was in the bed, and that the person in the bathroom was an intruder.

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, has attracted massive media attention, with a special TV channel being set aside.

Streets around the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria's central business district were temporarily closed to traffic. Many rooftops in the area were taken over by camera crews.

Pistorius was born with deformed feet and without fibula bones in his legs. After both legs were amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old, he overcame many obstacles to win a clutch of Olympic medals at the Paralympics.

In the 2012 London Olympics Pistorius became the first double- leg amputee to participate alongside able-bodied athletes when he competed in the men's 400 metres and 4x400 metres relay races.

He has been a poster hero for several companies, including Nike, Oakley, BT and Thierry Mugler. At the time of the shooting he was earning an average of two million U.S. dollars a year.

Editor: yan
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