Pistorius defence lawyer seeks to undercut neighbour’s evidence

Judge in murder trial warns media after claim image of witness shown on television

The trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has resumed in South Africa today. It opened today with the continued questioning of the first witness, neighbour Michelle Burger. Video: Reuters


South African track star Oscar Pistorius’ the defence lawyer has sought to undercut the evidence of the state’s first witness in the second day of the muder trial.

Attorney Barry Roux suggested that Mr Pistorius’ neighbour Michelle Michelle Burger was changing her story partly because she had not told police in a statement last year that she had heard screaming during the gunshots.

Mr Roux was also sceptical that she could hear fear and anxiety in the voice of a woman in a toilet cubicle with a closed door.

“I will invite the state to go and do a test” to see if the sound would carry, Mr Roux said.

Ms Burger stuck to her account, saying the area where she lives is tranquil and near a nature reserve, and that the windows of her house were open because there is no air conditioning.

“It’s very quiet,” she said. “Sound carries.”

Prosecutor Mr Nel objected to Mr Roux’s sometimes acerbic interrogation, saying it was repetitive. But Judge Masipa allowed the questioning to proceed and warned Ms Burger she would be “in that witness box” for a lot longer unless she gave direct answers.

“You don’t give an explanation,” Judge Masipa said. “If the answer is yes, you say yes. If it’s no, you say no. If you don’t know, you say you don’t know.”

Olympic and Paralympic star Pistorius is on trial for murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, at his suburban Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year. He says he mistook her for an intruder.

Earlier today the judge in the murder trial sharply warned the media to behave today after a local television station leaked a photo of the state’s first witness who had asked that her image not be broadcast.

Trial judge Thokozile Masipa ordered an investigation into the leak after broadcaster eNCA showed a photo of Ms Burger during the audio broadcast of her second day of testimony.

While the trial is being televised live, a previous court order had ruled witnesses must give their consent to be filmed.

Television station eNCA today accompanied the audio broadcast with a picture of Ms Burger.

After prosecutor Gerrie Nel pointed out the leak, judge Masipa called for a brief adjournment.

“I am warning the media, if you do not behave, you are not going to be treated with soft gloves by this court,” judge Masipa, herself a former journalist, said when the court resumed.

The trial, which could see one of global sports’ most admired figures jailed for life, has drawn comparisons with the high-profile murder trial of American football star and actor OJ Simpson two decades ago.

Ms Burger, a university lecturer who testified yesterday that she heard “bloodcurdling” screams from a woman followed by gun shots, has not consented to being filmed and only the audio of her testimony is being broadcast.

She was closely cross-examined for a second day on her testimony by lead defence attorney Mr Roux.

Judge Masipa also restricted the media from publishing photos of witnesses who have not consented to be filmed.

Patrick Conroy, the head of news at eNCA, said on Twitter the station had used a photo from the website of the University of Pretoria, where Ms Burger is a lecturer of construction economics.

Other newspapers also used the picture, he said.

A separate South African court ruled last month that the trial should be televised, saying it was vital for impoverished South Africans who feel ill-treated by the justice system to get a first-hand look at the proceedings.