Second witness describes sounds of fighting at Pistorius home

Evidence of Estelle van der Merwe a further blow to athlete’s defence

Oscar Pistorius (centre) leaves North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Oscar Pistorius (centre) leaves North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 01:00


A second witness at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial yesterday described how she was kept from sleeping on the night the athlete shot his girlfriend dead through a closed toilet door, by sounds of fighting coming from his home.

The evidence given by Estelle van der Merwe is a further blow to the defence, as along with separate testimony given on Monday, it contradicts the athlete’s statement that it was “unfair and incorrect” to suggest he had a row with Reeva Steenkamp before he killed her.

On the first day of the trial the state’s premier witness, Michelle Burger, also claimed she heard a man and a woman shouting before four shots rang out and a woman’s screaming voice then faded away.

Mr Pistorius has been charged with the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend, at his upmarket home in Pretoria, South Africa, in the early hours of February 14th last year, where she had come to spend a romantic evening with him.


Intruder
The Paralympic and Olympic athlete denies intentionally killing the 29-year-old, maintaining it was an accident, as he mistook her for an intruder who gained entry to his house.

The man known as the Blade Runner for his athletic achievements on prosthetic legs insists the pair were deeply in love.

Ms van der Merwe, who took to the stand just before lunch, lives three houses away from Mr Pistorius at the Sliver Wood estate. She told the court she was kept from sleeping from around 2am by the noise coming from the 27-year-old accused’s house.

“It seemed like somebody was involved in a fight,” she said, “People were talking in loud voices.”

Earlier Mr Pistorius’s legal team continued its attempts to weaken the testimony delivered by Ms Burger on Monday, but the athlete’s neighbour from an adjacent estate stood firm in the face of what was described by the state prosecutor as “relentless badgering”.

Ms Burger stuck to her version of events despite defence lawyer Barry Roux’s aggressive efforts to cast doubt on her credibility, and find contradictions between the statement she gave to the police and her testimony on the stand.

The university lecturer testified that she heard a woman’s piercing cries for help, followed by a man’s, before four gunshots rang out.

Mr Roux contended that his client’s voice rose significantly when he was anxious, which meant he could be mistaken for a woman when he screamed, implying that the sounds she heard were from Mr Pistorius and related to the accidental shooting rather than a fight.

He put it to the witness that she only heard one person, but was too biased against him to make the slightest concession.

Ms Burger, however, stood firm in relation to her version of events. “My statement is a few pages long. I’ve been testifying for hours and I can explain the minute details to the court.”

Mr Roux also maintained that Ms Burger’s house, which was 177 meters away, was too far from the scene of the incident for her to hear Ms Steenkamp screaming from a toilet cubicle that had both its window and door closed. At one point state prosecutor Gerrie Nel was compelled to object to Mr Roux’s questioning, saying he was badgering the witness.

Mr Roux then told the court the deceased would have been too severely injured to scream after being shot, as she had been brain damaged by a bullet. “There was serious, serious, brain damage,” said Roux. “It could not have been. She could not have screamed.”

Ms Burger’s husband, Charl Johnson, an IT project manager, also gave evidence yesterday. He told the court that initially he and his wife did not want to get involved, and expected people who lived closer to Mr Pistorius to give statements similar to their own.

However, on February 22nd, 2013, they heard Mr Pistorius’s bail application on the radio. When he outlined his version of events to the court, they differed from their own experience that evening, Mr Johnson said. This prompted them to contact a lawyer friend, and they gave statements to the police a few days later, he said.