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  • TRACK AND FIELD

    Once-calm witness breaks down at Pistorius murder trial

  • PRETORIA, South Africa — For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night that the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.
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  • PRETORIA, South Africa — For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night that the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.
    Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius who took the stand on the second day of a trial watched around the world, remained calm through intense questioning by the chief defense lawyer. In a final exchange with the lead prosecutor on Tuesday, however, emotion washed over her as she recalled what she described as the terrified screams of a woman early on Valentine's Day last year.
    "When I'm in the shower, I relive her shouts," Burger said in an apparent reference to her trauma just after the shooting, when a police captain took her statement. When Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked her about her emotions at the time, she said the experience was "quite raw" and her voice broke.
    Nel asked her how she was coping now.
    "I'm coping fine," Burger insisted. "It's been a year."
    Burger, a university lecturer, lives 177 meters (193 yards) from Pistorius' house, where his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, died in what the runner said was an accident.
    Burger testified that she heard a man and a woman shouting, then the sound of four gunshots. She said the woman's screams continued during the gunshots and quickly faded away after the final one. She was the first witness called by the prosecution, which contends that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp after a loud argument.
    Her testimony contradicts Pistorius' account. He says he fired four times through the toilet cubicle door, hitting Steenkamp three times in the head, arm and hip or side area after thinking she was a dangerous intruder. He has pleaded not guilty.
    The defense contends that Burger may have been asleep when the gunshots were fired, and then mistakenly thought she was hearing gunfire when in fact it was the sound of Pistorius breaking the toilet cubicle door with a cricket bat after realizing he had shot his girlfriend.
    During cross-examination of Burger, chief defense lawyer Barry Roux suggested that she was mistaken in saying that she heard a woman screaming and that it was actually Pistorius shouting for help in a high voice after accidentally shooting Steenkamp.
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