Oscar Pistorius trial: Why screams may be relevant to the case
A neighbor testified Monday in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial that she heard gunshots, screams, and the voices of a man and women on the night of Reeva Steenkamp's death.
Pretoria, South Africa
A neighbor of Oscar Pistorius testified at his murder trial on Monday that she heard gunshots as well as screams from both a man and a woman on the night that the double-amputee runner fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Anette Stipp's testimony matched some of the evidence given by other witnesses earlier in the trial who said they also heard a woman screaming around the time that Pistorius killed Steenkamp before dawn on Feb. 14, 2013.
The defense has countered that the neighbors were actually hearing Pistorius screaming in a high-pitched voice after he shot Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model. Pistorius has said he shot his girlfriend by mistake through a locked toilet door, thinking that she was an intruder in his home.
Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel opened Monday's court session by noting evidence will include analysis of cellular telephones, including two that were removed from the bathroom where the shooting happened.
Investigators had been chasing information on Pistorius' locked iPhone for months and met Apple officials in the United States just before the trial started on March 3. Pistorius has said he forgot the password to his phone.
Stipp, the neighbor, said under questioning from Nel that she heard gunshots while lying awake around 3 a.m. on the night of the shooting, and then heard the "terrified, terrified" screams of a woman. Her bedroom is situated across a grassy area about 70 meters (230 feet) from Pistorius' home, and the windows of the athlete's bathroom are visible from her window.
"The screaming at that stage just continued," said Stipp, who recalled looking out from a balcony at two houses with lights on in the gated estate where her family and Pistorius lived.
She said she told her husband Johan, who previously testified, that the screaming sounded as though a "family murder" had taken place.
"There was definitely a female screaming for quite a period," Anette Stipp said. "You could definitely hear two different voices."
She said she then heard a second set of shots, and the screaming stopped.
The defense has said that Pistorius fired into the door and then battered the door with a cricket bat to get to Steenkamp after realizing she was inside the toilet cubicle. It insists that some neighbors who testified mistook the sound of the cricket bat striking the door for gunshots.
Pistorius' camp also maintains that Pistorius fired with quick bursts that gave Steenkamp no time to scream, and so Pistorius did not realize he was shooting at Steenkamp. A South African police ballistics expert, however, has testified that the first of three bullets that struck Steenkamp hit her in the right hip, giving her time to scream before she was hit in the arm and head.
Defense lawyer Kenneth Oldwadge pressed neighbor Anette Stipp on her recollections, questioning whether she was inside her house or on a balcony while hearing what she said were shots and screams, and whether she was alert because she had said she was slightly ill at the time. He said she was wrong to say the light was in Pistorius' bathroom around the time of the shooting.
Stipp also testified about an incident this year in which she again heard screams in the estate at night. The testimony appeared to refer to what Pistorius' defense lawyers have referred to as noise tests that they conducted to determine how sound carries and to prove their contention that the runner screams in a high voice when extremely anxious.
The sounds included a male voice screaming in both high and low pitches, Stipp said. The screaming this year, she said, had "very little emotion," in contrast to the screaming she heard on the night of Steenkamp's death.
Nel, the prosecutor, has said he will wrap up his case against Pistorius this week after calling four or five more witnesses to support his contention that the Olympian intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument. The defense will then present its case.
Judicial officials say the trial will continue until May 16, with a recess in April.
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