Oscar Pistorius on Monday pleaded not guilty to premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but a witness told the court she heard a woman scream several times before shots were fired.
“I believe that the state has no basis for me wanting to take Reeva’s life,” the double-amputee athlete said in a statement read out on his behalf by his lawyer Barry Roux at a trial that opened in Pretoria.
Pistorius pleaded not guilty to three unrelated charges, in which he allegedly fired a gun through the sunroof of a car, discharged a firearm under a table in a restaurant and illegally kept ammunition in his home.
Pistorius was a hero in South Africa until he shot Steenkamp dead through the bathroom door in his upmarket Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Pistorius’ statement said he heard the bathroom window slide open at night, believed Steenkamp was still in bed, and approached the bathroom with a gun. The discharging of the firearm was precipitated by noise coming from the toilet.
“I believed it was intruders coming out of the toilet to attack Reeva and me,” the statement said.
The Steenkamp family listened calmly, while Pistorius’ brother, sister and uncle stared straight ahead.
Pistorius’ neighbour Michelle Burger testified that she woke up at night to “a woman’s terrible screams.” “She yelled for help,” Burger said. “Then I also heard a man screaming for help.” Burger then heard the woman scream again. “She was very scared. Just after her scream I heard four shots.”
The trial was delayed by 1.5 hours by the late arrival of an Afrikaans interpreter and the entry of a woman, who claimed to be the former wife of the doctor who amputated Pistorius’ legs. Court officials escorted her out of the room.
Steenkamp’s mother June, who saw Pistorius for the first time, looked long at the athlete who avoided her gaze.
The three-week trial is televised live, except for the testimonies of Pistorius and witnesses who are not police officers or crime experts — a first in South Africa.