By Staff Reporter
- Oscar Pistorius, charged with the Valentine’s Day 2013 murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, pleads not guilty on the first day of his trial in Pretoria.
• Leaked photos show crime scene for first time
• First full account of how he shot Reeva Steenkamp
• Three key questions for the judge
• Oscar Pistorius: Not the boy I knew
• Oscar Pistorius: timeline
• In pictures: Oscar Pistorius
14.02 Erin Conway-Smith for the Telegraph says Steenkamp family’s lawyer says that neither June – Reeva’s mother – nor the other family members will be in court tomorrow.
It is thought Pistorius’ family will sit through most of the hearing, which could last as long as six weeks.
Pistorius’ siblings listen to the evidence
Michelle Burger held up fairly well. Consider that the last person the pugnacious Barry Roux, Pistorius’ defence barrister, cross-examined was Hilton Botha, who was initially the lead detective in the case – so used to giving evidence in court.
The hapless Mr Botha was left sweating and tongue-tied after Mr Roux interrogated him on the police evidence, eventually admitting that they had nothing that gainsaid Pistorius’ account. The following day, Mr Botha was removed from the case after the NPA resurrected old charges against him.
In contrast, Mrs Burger, a university lecturer, started her evidence quite tearfully as she described hearing Steenkamp’s “blood curdling” screams but has become steelier and more confident as her cross-examination has gone on.
She has rejected attempts by Mr Roux to discredit her, saying she could not be sure about what she heard, that she was too far away. She has done away with the interpreter who was due to translate her responses in Afrikaans into English, saying she could do a better job herself – and gone on to do so. She has shrugged off Mr Roux’s claims that the woman’s screams she heard might have been those of Pistorius in a panic, and the suggestion that she might have mistaken the sound of the defendant breaking down the door with a cricket bat for the sound of gunshots.
Asked how she slept after the “trauma” of what she heard, she angrily responed: “My sister’s baby died on Friday night. I slept. I sleep after traumatic events.”
One colleague reports he’s spoken to a criminologist who said Dr Burger’s evidence did not bode well for Pistorius. “I think he’s nailed in one testimony,” the expert reportedly said.
Pistorius speaks with his lawyer Barry Roux
13.46 End of day one. They’re back in court tomorrow at 9.30 local time, or 7.30 GMT.
13.26 Unequivocal now: “I am 100 per cent certain I heard gunshots that evening. I know what one sounds like”. She says she cannot understand how Pistorius could have not heard the screaming.
13.21 Roux is now questioning her intensively about whether what she heard was definitely gunshots. She is adamant: “Most people in South Africa know the difference in sound between gun shots and a cricket bat”.
13.13 She’s now almost completely abondoned her Afrikaans translator, who a little while ran out of the room in a coughing fit.
13.10 She says again, “I heard the man screaming after I heard the woman screaming. What I heard was ‘help! Help! Help!” She is asked again about how she slept that night.
13.00 It’s exhausting just watching the cross-examination. Mrs Burger is a very strong, confident witness, so Roux is having to work quite hard to trip her up. Our correspondent in court, Erin Conway-Smith, tweets:
12.50 She is being questioned about why she didn’t write the word “bloodcurdling” in her written statement. She reiterates that she said the screams were terrible and she told the police that.
12.45 Mrs Burger is being questioned about what exactly she heard, when she says it was a scream.
12.34 Court has adjourned for a few minutes.
12.26 She reiterates again, she was woken up by a woman screaming, then heard her calling for help, shortly after a man then called for help three times. “The last time I heard a woman’s voice was before the last shot,” she says. “Lying on my bed, it was the most helpless I’ve felt in my life, you only shout like that if your life is really threatened.”
12.23 In regards to the timing of the screams and the shots, Erin Conway-Smith, our other correspondent in the Pretoria court say:
12.22 Aislinn Laing, our correspondent in court, has written this wrap of this morning’s developments. Oscar Pistorius: witness describes ‘bloodcurdling screams’ followed by shots
12.14 Mrs Berger is talking now in English to make sure she is understood. She is having to correct her interpreter, so has now decided to speak English for the court:
I was traumatised through what heard that evening. I didn’t go to bed a susual, it was a very emotional situation to have ot hear. The petrified screams and shouts.
12.11 He is questioning Mrs Burger about her husband’s account (he is expected to give evidence later in the trial). “I am honest with the court and my husband will be’. Defence lawyer Roux answers: How do you KNOW he’ll be honest?”
TV camera crews and press photographers tussle with security outside Pretoria’s High Court
11.58 I did not hear the cricket bat bangs on the door but I did hear the gunshots. She is being asked if there could have been shots before she woke up. Mrs Burger is standing firm: No, I heard petrified screams and then gunshots. Four shots.”
I clearly heard four gunshots after I made the telephone call
11.55 Michell Burger is now being cross-examined by the prosecution: “I can only tell the court what I heard that evening. I cannot understand how I could hear a woman scream but Oscar Pistorius couldn’t.” Aislinn Laing in court says “Roux Pistorius’ defence layer) is trying to put this witness under pressure. She’s emotional but she seems rather determined not to be bullied on what she wants to say.”
11.52 Everybody streaming back into court after an hour adjournment for lunch.
11.32 Paddy Power, the bookmaker, has been taking bets on the outcome of the trial, which many have said is in very bad taste:
11.30 To recap: the first witness in the trial, neighbour Michell Burger, described hearing “bloodcurdling screams” on the night the Paralympian shot his Reeva dead.
Mrs Burger, who lived on the neighbouring estate to the Silverwoods Estate in Pretoria where Pistorius lived, described hearing a woman screaming followed by four gunshots on Valentine’s night last year.
11.11 Pistorius was seen shaking hands with a few people on his way out of court.
11.09 This just in from Erin Conway-Smith, who is in the courtroom for us: Department of Justice statement says proceedings were delayed earlier “due to the unavailability of interpreters who had initially been confirmed”. See 09.32 (Apparently the Afrikaans interpreter was only told today that she would be working on the Pistorius case and was “overwhelmed”. She arrived at court, burst into tears and left.)
10.53 The camera may have panned away, but there were plenty of photographers in the courtroom. This shot shows how emotional this morning’s hearing has been for the Steenkamp family, who are having to hear evidence live for the first time.
June Steenkamp, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, left, wipes her face with a tissue at the start the trial
10.45 The court has taken a break for lunch – will return in an hour.
10.39 Michell Burger, the first witness called, is still giving evidence:
We thought people in the Silver Wood estate would testify as we are not in the estate. We went away during the pre-trial, but then heard on the radio of a witness living 600m from his house. We realised we lived much closer than that. We then realised how important our testimony would be. We then tried to find out what to do, we are not media people.
10.35 You cannot translate into words the fear in her screams, the witness in the stand says, “It was very traumatic for me to hear those blood curdling screams. It leaves you cold to hear that fear.”
Mrs Burger went to work as normal the next morning but did call her friend to tell her the story, said she wanted to find out if someone had died.
10.31 Mrs Burger is now being shown exhibits – aerial photos of how close her estate was to Pistorius’ house (about three blocks). She says she could see his house when standing on her balcony. Her bedroom is on the second floor and the balcony faces out towards Silver Woods estate. Her bedroom windows were wide open that night as they do not have air conditoning or a fan.
Aerial view of Pistorius’s home in a gated housing complex in Pretoria
10.21 Michell Burger says she explained there were people next door being attacked and they should go there.
I heard screams again, it was worse, more intense. It was four gun shots. The pause between one and two was much longer than between number two and three and three and four (…) My husband then returned from the balcony. We said we hoped the woman had not seen her husband shot dead as after he screamed for help we did not hear him again.
10.17 She says she went to bed between 9pm and 10pm that night. She woke up at 3am “from a woman’s terrible screams”.
I sat upright in bed and my husband also woke up from the screams. He jumped up and went to the balcony. She screamed terribly and yelled for help. Then I also heard a man scream for help, three times he yelled for help.
I told my husband to come back to the room and call security. My husband came back into the room, I took my cell phone and dialled for security. He spoke to them, and told him to tell them there was an attack in Silverwood estate.
Pistorius looks at his watch at the start of his trial
10.14 She says she is a lecturer at University of Pretoria, in department of construction and economics. She says she has never met Pistorius before. She knew he lived on the estate, but not where. She was on the SilverStream estate on the night of the killing.
10.10 The first witness, Michell Burger, has been called by the defence. She lives in an estate next to Pistorius. The defence is now arguing she should not give evidence on camera and suggested she gives evidence in an “overflow court”. The judge agrees and orders her face not be shown.
She is being sworn in in Afrikaans. The camera has panned away from her face now.
TV camera crews and press photographers tussle with security outside Pretoria’s High Court
10.07 If his opening statement is anything to go by, Pistorius seems ready to fight hard.
10.03 His lawyer, Barry Roux, says Pistorius admits to possessing ammunition he did not permitted to have.
09.56 Our correspondent in the courtoom, Erin Conway-Smith, says June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, is impassive while listening to Pistorius’ plea explanation.
South African housewife Lauren Wentzel watches the the trial from her home in the Red Hill informal settlement outside Cape Town
09.49 His lawyer reads out the rest of the statement: “The state has no basis whatsoever that I intended to take Reeva’s life. All the objective evidence will corroborate my version.”
He disputes that there was any argument between him and Reeva, as was claimed by some witnesses.
It is not usual to challenge the state’s case in an opening statement, he admits, but he says there was an unfair approach adopted by Hilton Botha (the original investigating officer).
He accuses the prosector of a “character assassination” in saying he and Reeva were arguing on the night of her death.
His statement was false and designed to falsley incriminate me for premeditated murder. He was in charge of inspecting the scene – it was contaminated.
The idea that I wanted to kill Reeva cannot be further from the truth.
It was added that the witness who said they heard shouting was 105 metres from his house – too far for them to have been able to hear raised voices.
09.46 Pistorius’ statement is now being read out.
09.39 He faces four counts in total. He has just pleaded not guilty to the 2012 firearms charges against him. He also pleads not gulty to the third charge: the offence of discharging firearm in built up area (in a restaurant). His last plea, to ammunition charges, is also not guilty. “Not guilty, My Lady,” Pistorius answered when asked by Judge Thokozile Masipa. Four not guilty pleas.
09.36 State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel reads out the charges. Pistorius denies murder, pleading not guilty.
09.33 The trial has begun. Both sides say they are ready. The judge apologies for the delay, saying there were “hiccups”, without elaborating.
09.32 Apparently the Afrikaans interpreter was only told today that she would be working on the Pistorius case and is “overhwhelmed”. She arrived at court, burst into tears and left.
09.25 The Telegraph reported over the weekend on the “Pistorians” – the thousands of Pistorius supporters confident of a non-guilty verdict for the fallen golden boy. Aislinn Laing, our correspondent based in Johannesburg wrote:
They are called the Pistorians. And as their hero begins his trial for the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Monday, they are keen to tell the world that the shooting of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend was, in his words, a “devastating accident”.
They believe that Pistorius, 27, is a “decent human being” and has been subject to unfair trial by public opinion. They show their support by tweeting messages of hope and love to the world’s most famous paralympic athlete, discussing aspects of the evidence in Facebook forums and, periodically, attacking those who suggest his actions have been anything but honourable.
Many are there at the court today:
09.23 Family and friends arriving earlier:
09.10 Pistorius also faces a second charge of illegal possession of ammunition for bullets found at his Pretoria house that he allegedly didn’t have proper licensing for. Prosecutors say he also will be indicted Monday with two more gun charges relating to him allegedly shooting in public on two separate occasions before Steenkamp’s killing.
The gun charges reportedly relate to him allegedly shooting out the sunroof of a car in one incident and another when he allegedly fired a gun inside a restaurant, apparently by mistake.
Pistorius prays with his sister Aimee and brother Carl in the magistrates’ court in Pretoria last year
09.07 We have just heard the judge saying it will be a further 20 minutes before the trial officially opens.
09.06 Members of the ANC’s Women’s League are protesting outside, singing and chanting. They campaign against violence against women. Very few cases make it to court in South Africa.
09.02 No sign in court of the woman the MailOnline last week claimed was dating Pistorius. They reported that he was dating 19-year-old student parademic and double amputee Leah Skye Malan.
09.00 Now an hour late…
08.45 Family and friends wait patiently for the trial, which is now running 45 minutes late:
Relatives of Oscar Pistorius wait inside the court prior to the start of his trial
08.40 Pictures of the scene were leaked to Sky News last year, including images of the bloody bathroom where he shot his lover, Reeva. WARNING GRAPHIC:
08.39 Apparently the reason for the hold-up is the court looking for an Afrikaans translator.
08.33 A clearer today picture of Pistorius. Looks like he’s caught a bit of sun. He went back to track training a couple of months after the killing last year.
08.25 Aislinn Laing, our correspondent in court, has the latest on the delays.
Morning from a sweltering Court GD of Pretoria High Court where we’re waiting for the judge to arrive. She’s a little late – 15 minutes to be exact.
Oscar Pistorius, who’s dressed in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, is here looking sharp-eyed and eager to get going. He strode into court looking confident through a battery of photographers and TV cameras with what appeared to be a bodyguard behind him holding on to the back of his suit.
He’s had a series of pep-talks from his lawyers, including a determined-looking Barry Roux, the lead defence barrister. Behind him are his siblings Carl and Aimee, who have been greeting reporters, his uncle Arnold, the de facto head of the family with whom he lives, and assorted uncles, aunts and cousins – around 12 in all.
The couple in happier times, at a party in Johannesburg in January last year
To the right of them on the same bench at the Steenkamp contingent, also numbering around 12 and led by Reeva’s mother June, who came in to court quite early in a sober dark suit, looking understandably on edge. No greetings exchanged between the two camps – it’s the first time that Oscar has seen his former girlfriend’s mother.
Behind the family are around 100 journalists – more have been let in than were accredited in the end. At this stage, little else to report. Family and reporters are eyeing each other up with mutual trepidation. And all eyes are on the judge’s door.
Team Telegraph, Aislinn Laing and Erin Conway-Smith, are on the front row and will be tweeting furiously to keep you updated.
08.17 If the state succeeds in convincing Judge Thokozile Masipa of intent to kill, Pistorius will go to prison for life, in all likelihood a minimum of 25 years behind bars.
Besides the murder charge, Pistorius has already admitted to culpable homicide, equivalent to manslaughter, a crime that could see him put away for 15 years – or he could leave the Pretoria High Court a free man, with no more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence.
Pistorious is pictured shooting targets and a watermelon using what is thought to be the same killed used to kill his girlfriend
08.15 Barring a last-minute change of heart, Pistorius, who appeared in court in a dark suit with a white shirt and tie, will enter a plea of “not guilty”.
Prosecutors will seek to prove that Pistorius – known as “Blade Runner” after his carbon-fibre running prosthetics – fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through the door of the toilet adjoining the bedroom of his luxury Pretoria home in a deliberate attempt to kill whoever was behind it.
08.09 The case is yet to start, and does not look anywhere near ready to, according to reporters in court. The case, once it does begin, is expected to last three weeks, and there are a 107 witnesses listed to give evidence.
The Steenkamp family sit united in court
08.00 This is a big day for South Africa, with some calling it the country’s OJ Simpson. It is also their first televised trial.
08.00 Aislinn Laing, our correspondent in court, says Pistorius is having a last-minute team talk from a determined-looking Barry Roux, his defence barrister, who grasps his hand before walking off.
07.48 Oscar has just arrived, cutting it fine with just 13 minutes to go before the start of the case, which is being heard in courtroom GD. He walked straight past June Steenkamp and is now sipping water and looking composed, according to people in the courtroom.
07.38 Reeva’s mother June, who has just arrived in court after travelling from her home in Port Elizabeth. said in a recent interview that she wanted Oscar to “look her in the eye” during the trial. She has come done alone as her husband Barry is too ill to travel after a stroke.
June, 67, said in the interview:
I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva. Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him … But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he has inflicted on me. I feel I need that.
07.28 Carl Pistorius, Oscar’s older brother has tweeted this morning, quoting JRR Tolkien:
07.20 The trial judge last week ruled that the trial will be televised, well, parts of it at least. His evidence, plus witnesses’ evidence, plus the opening and closing statements. There have been very few such high-profile court cases broadcast.
Some of the most famous televised court cases includes: Amanda Knox, OJ Simpson, Dr Conrad Murray, Anders Behring Breivik and Louise Woodward
07.17 Family members and friends of both Oscar and Reeva are slowly making their way into court for what will surely be a difficult day for everyone.
07.07 We are hearing Reeva Steenkamp’s family have just walked into court, where they will face their daughter’s killer for the first time since the incident last year on Valentine’s Day. The trial is due to start at 10am SAST, or 8am GMT.
File photo from AFP
07.05 There is already quite a media scrum outside and inside the courtroom juding by this picture taken by journalist Barry Bateman, Eyewitness News reporter and co-author on working title, Behind The Door: the Oscar and Reeva Story.
07.03 With no eyewitnesses other than Pistorius himself to the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp, experts say the case will be decided by forensic evidence and its interpretation by each side
Aislinn Laing, our correspondent in the Pretoria courtroom, says:
With no eyewitnesses to what happened, said Professor Stephen Tuson, a criminal law expert at Wits University, there would be a “forensic battleground” between each side’s experts.
“The prosecution will have to rely on forensic evidence collected at the scene to test the truth of his version as to the actual circumstances surrounding the shooting,” he said.
“Evidence such as blood, bullet holes, cartridge cases, blood spatter, [text] messages sent and received, the time they were sent, which phone they were sent from.”
07.02 Oscar Pistorius’s fate will pivot around three key figures.
1. Judge Thokozile Masipa – the female high court judge preciding over the case. Mrs Masipa is regarded in legal circles as likeable, eloquent and considered. She has appointed two assessors to help her shoulder the weight of responsibility for the high-profile case. She will have to ask herself three key questions: Did the couple argue on the night of the shooting? Why did Pistorius not call the police? Did the police irreparably taint the crime scene?
2. Barry Roux – Pistorius’ lead defence lawyer is a seasoned courtroom brawler who made mincemeat of Hilton Botha, the former lead detective in this case, during cross-examination of his evidence to the bail hearing.
3. Gerrie Nel – the state’s lead prosecutor is said to have something of a Midas touch and has taken some high-profile scalps during his 30 years in the legal profession.
Oscar Pistorius with Reeva Steenkamp at an awards ceremony in 2012
07.00 Good morning, and welcome to The Telegraph‘s live coverage of the trial of Oscar Pistorius.
Pistorius, 27, is accused of shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
He denies all charges.
The last we heard from him was this statement on his website, issued to mark the anniversary of her death.
No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved – and continues to love Reeva.
The pain and sadness – especially for Reeva’s parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow.
The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
– The Telegraph UK