Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius pled not guilty to charges of murdering his girlfriend, former model Reeva Steenkamp, moments before the first witness took the stand.
The murder trial opened with dramatic testimony from the first witness who described hearing “bloodcurdling” screams from a woman followed by four shots. Michelle Burger, who lived nearby the couple’s home, spoke with the help of a translator to detail the events of the murder that occurred Valentine’s Day 2013 in South Africa.
Burger told the court she woke up hearing “a woman’s terrible screams” and could tell “something terrible was happening at that house.” After her husband called the security residents guarding the gated community, she heard another set of screams and yells for help from a man and a woman. Then came four shots and silence. She told her husband that at first she thought the woman had witnessed her husband being shot “because after he screamed, we didn’t hear him.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner,” is one of South Africa’s most notable athletes. Born without legs, he used the assistance of prostheses to propel him to win six Paralympic gold medals in the 400M dash before competing at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Steenkamp, 29, was on the rise to become a reality television star.
Pistorius told authorities last year that he killed Steenkamp mistakenly thinking she was an intruder in their upstairs bathroom. He told authorities he thought his girlfriend was still in bed at the time he fired four shots. In his statement, he didn’t describe hearing a woman’s screams, differing from Burger’s account of the events. In addition, to the murder charge, the sprinter faces weapons-related charges stemming from shooting a handgun out of a sunroof in 2010 and illegally firing a weapon in an outdoor cafe in 2012.
Parts of the trial are being broadcast after a judge agreed to allow cameras in the courtroom, a first in South Africa. Testimony will resume Tuesday in the trial.