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 Tuesday, 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 neighbor 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 defense attorney. 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 told prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
Burger, a university lecturer, lives 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.
During cross-examination of Burger, chief defense attorney 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.
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.
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."