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Tue Jul 29 00:33:42 SAST 2014

Death screams or cry for help from Pistorius?

Werner Swart | 10 March, 2014 09:16

AT 9.47am on Monday, Oscar Pistorius entered room GD in the High Court in Pretoria. He looked sheepish as he shuffled past the first row of the public gallery to take his place in the dock.

The athlete did not lock eyes with a blonde, elderly woman sitting in the front row.

But for June Steenkamp it was a significant moment - it was 383 days since he had shot and killed her daughter. She finally laid her eyes on him, in the flesh, for the first time.

Pistorius and her model daughter, Reeva Steenkamp, had been dating for four months before the shooting at his home in Pretoria.

Surrounded by friends and two lawyers, Steenkamp occasionally stared in his direction as proceedings got under way.

Some described it as "cold stares", but, if you looked closely, you could almost see the question marks in her eyes: Why did he do it?

The next day, she was gone.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, because her daughter's voice and final moments on earth had begun to emerge.

There is only one person in court who knows what happened early on Valentine's Day last year at 286 Bushwillow Street in the Silver Woods Country Estate.

It is the man who entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of premeditated murder.

He says it was a tragic accident. Yet the other person who was inside his luxury home on that fateful night has come to play a critical role, even in death, in determining what happened.

Four people have taken the stand to testify that they had heard a woman screaming that morning. They all told the court they believed it was Reeva's voice.

Although none of them - Michelle Burger, Charl Johnson, Estelle van der Merwe and Johan Stipp - had met her, they testified about having heard "bloodcurdling" screams coming from the direction of Pistorius's house. One after the other they testified: "It was a woman's voice."

Burger called the sound "bloodcurdling". She said the screams still haunted her.

Van der Merwe said she had heard a woman "arguing" two hours before the shooting.

Stipp said it was "definitely a woman's voice I heard" .

If they were right, it would appear that Reeva, as everyone in court calls her, had come to help to guide the trial to the truth.

The scenario of what transpired in the Olympian's house has been relayed across the world. The only facts the defence and the prosecution agree on are that Pistorius walked to the bathroom; he fired shots through the toilet door; the shots killed Reeva.

The state has the task of showing that an argument between the couple led to him gunning her down in cold blood.

What makes this difficult is the lack of eyewitnesses.

The witnesses who heard the screams and shots are as close as they can get to forming a picture .

If only it were that simple.

The state must have thought that the "ear witnesses" - who had heard a woman scream - would prove that it was Reeva who, in her final moments, had called for help and attention.

Then came the defence's bombshell.

Yes, advocate Barry Roux told some witnesses, who he had known were close enough to the house to have been able to hear a commotion, you did hear screams.

And yes, to you they sounded like that of a woman.

But you are dead wrong, Roux said. Those screams belonged to my client: Pistorius.

After the laughter and astonishment settled in court, Roux drove home his point.

He would be able to call expert witnesses who could testify that Pistorius, when anxious, sounds like a woman when he screams.

He said Pistorius's voice, at a certain pitch, could fool anyone into thinking it was a female clearing her lungs.

This contention surprised a lot of people.

An athlete w ho had built his brand on his masculinity - he was voted South Africa 's sexiest man; he drove fast cars - wa s willing to ditch this macho image for his freedom .

Five days into the trial of the decade, it is clear that one plus one does not equal two.

And nothing is quite as it seems.

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Tue Jul 29 00:33:42 SAST 2014 ::