PRETORIA, South Africa — The murder trial of South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius began dramatically in Pretoria's High Court on Monday, with a neighbor testifying that she heard "bloodcurdling screams" on the night his girlfriend was killed.
Michelle Burger, who lives close to Pistorius, told the court that she was awakened by the sound of a woman screaming in the early hours of Valentine's Day morning last year. She said that she sat up in bed and that her husband woke up and went out onto their balcony to listen.
"It was a very traumatic thing. We could hear very close, bloodcurdling screams," she testified.
Pistorius, who in 2012 won acclaim for becoming the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics, pleaded not guilty to the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
South Africa does not have a jury system, and the trial is being heard by a judge. Pistorius admits that he shot Steenkamp through a toilet door at his apartment, but he says he believed she was an intruder.
Burger testified that when she heard the screams, she assumed that intruders were attacking a couple. She said she told her husband to phone the apartment complex's guards. Shortly afterward, the woman's screams grew louder, she said.
"She was very scared. The screams were at a climax," Burger testified.
She said she then heard four gunshots. "Bang … bang-bang … bang," she said, describing a pause between the first shot, followed by two shots close together, then a small pause followed by a fourth shot.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Barry Roux suggested that the shots were fired while Burger was still asleep and the bangs she described were the sounds of Pistorius bashing down the toilet door with a cricket bat after shooting Steenkamp.
Burger replied: "I've got no doubt I heard gunshots. I did not hear a cricket bat hitting a door."