HOLDERThe man known around the world as Blade Runner has arrived in the Pretoria High Court for the beginning of his murder trial.Oscar Pistorius snuck in a side door, avoiding a huge media throng - at least until he made it inside.He is sitting patiently waiting for the judge, Thokozile Masipa to arrive on the bench. He looks composed, but nervous. As you would be.Pistorius is scribbling in an A4 notebook, and intermittently talking with his lawyers.Just to recap - Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is standing trial for the premeditated murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.He admits shooting her dead on February 14 last year - but claims he was trying to protect himself and Reeva from a dangerous intruder.He fired four shots into a closed - and locked - bathroom door in his home in Pretoria in the early hours of Valentine's Day. Ms Steenkamp died almost instantly.We are still waiting for proceedings to get underway here ... Judge Thokozile Masipa has not yet arrived on the bench.Oscar Pistorius continues to talk quietly with his legal team, write in an A4 notebook, and sip from a bottle of water. We are running close to an hour behind schedule.In the meantime, South Africa's Sunday Times newspaper reported at the weekend that Pistorius has a new love interest.Her name, according to their report, is Leah Skye Malan, a paramedic student who apparently met the accused athlete on holidays in Mozambique.She does not appear to be in court.
In court today is Ms Steenkamp's mother, June, who arrived fighting back tears. Dressed head-to-foot in black, she is accompanied by a number of family and friends. Also in court is Pistorius's family - uncle Arnold, sister Aimee and brother Carl, among other supporters.We are underway.He stands as he pleads "not guilty, my lady" to a charge that he murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He has also pleaded not guilty to other firearms charges.
Sorry everyone, the live stream we have going at the top of the blog is not working very well. But if there's only audio, it means the judge has ordered the witness' face not be shown on live television.
The state's first witness Michelle Burger is taking the stand. She says she is a lecturer at the University of Pretoria. She lives at Silver Stream Estate, which is next to Pistorius' estate.
Ms Burger says she woke up to a woman's screams on the night Steenkamp died.
Burger appears visibly upset as she describes how she and her husband called their estate security for help "for the people being attacked" — Karyn Maughan (@karynmaughan) March 3, 2014
We have just been told we should be underway in about half an hour. The judge is ready, but there is a problem with the translation service.
Born Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius in 1986, the athlete had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old. He began running on prosthetics at the age of 16, and won gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.
In 2012 he became the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes, in the London Olympic Games. In February 2013, he was an international sports hero with dozens of endorsements, including Nike. But the shooting of his glamorous girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, changed that.
He claims he had mistaken her for an intruder, but it seems unlikely his reputation will ever be restored.
Born in Cape Town in 1983, Reeva Steenkamp grew up in Port Elizabeth and began modelling in her teens. She graduated with a law degree from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2005.
Twice named one of the 100 Sexiest Women in the World by FHM magazine, Steenkamp was a contestant in the reality-TV show "Tropika Island of Treasure", which aired in South Africa after her death.
She met Pistorius in 2012 and accompanied him to the South African Sports Awards. She worked as a paralegal and was an advocate against sexual abuse.
Just before Ms Burger began her evidence, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel gave a brief opening address.
He said the case against Pistorius was a circumstantial one, because Pistorius and Steenkamp were the only two people present on the night the model died.
However, there would be evidence given from neighbour's in Pistorius' estate, and a neighbouring estate about what they heard that night.
"We will lead ballistics evidence, and forensic evidence, we will argue there are certain inferences to be drawn from the scene," Mr Nel said.
"We argue that the accused's version in his bail application (last year) and today can not be reasonably possibly and should be rejected."
Curiously, Pistorius also wanted the court to hear his version of events before the evidence began.
In a break with tradition, his barrister Barry Roux SC, read a statement to the court on behalf of his client in response to the charges.
He said Pistorius denied the allegations that he murdered Ms Steenkamp “in the strongest possible terms” and reaffirmed his position that the shooting had been a “tragic accident”.
In answer to one of the most asked pre-trial questions, Pistorius confirmed he would testify in his own defence case and give a detailed explanation of what occurred in his home on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Pistorius will claim the "tragic accident” had occurred as he had been responding to what he believed was “an imminent threat to Reeva and me.”
He said at the time he pulled the trigger four times into the bathroom door, “I believed Reeva was still in bed.”
Having heard a noise in the bathroom, he said he reacted by grabbing his weapon “knowing that I was on my stumps and couldn’t defend myself”.
He said the Crown had “no basis for alleging that I intended to take Reeva’s life” and would strongly dispute any witness who said they heard the couple arguing prior to the killing.
We're currently having an hour's lunch break ... it's pouring with rain outside so most people are hanging around in the court, grabbing whatever they can to snack on. I think the little vendors at the North Gauteng High Court are making a motza today!Earlier today, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel didn't waste any time getting started on the witness list. The first witness of the day has a few more questions to answer from him before her cross-examination begins.I think we have another three hours of evidence today; usually the court sits until 5pm local time.
Judge Masipa has returned to the bench.
To recap - witness says she woke up to sound of screams, heard four gunshots and also a man calling for help.
"The events of that evening were extremely traumatic for me, the fear in that woman's voice is hard to explain," the witness, Dr Burger says again.
Pistorius's counsel Barry Roux is drilling into Dr Burger's version of events. Mr Roux is seeking to clarify, but challenging the order of events. However, Dr Burger keeps coming back to the emotion of the event.
"My lady, the screams I heard before was petrified ... Just before the gunshots, it was bloodcurdling.
That woman's life was really threatened."
Mr Roux is unimpressed and wishes to take her through her police statement.
The witness, Dr Burger, is clearly fluent in both English and Afrikans. She prefers the latter, but is increasingly speaking in the former.
Dr Burger made her police statement in Afrikans but she is being questioned in English about why she didn't use descriptors like "bloodcurdling" in that version.
It's never a good sign when a counsel takes a witness to their original statement.
Mr Roux asked for a brief adjournment while there is some sorting out of paperwork. One gets the distinct impression he is using the break to sharpen his teeth - he will have some tough questions for Dr Burger, I suspect.
A lot of pressure is being exerted on the witness Dr Burger by defence counsel Mr Roux about her statement to police and the order of events in it. This has been exacerbated by the fact the statement was made in Afrikans. Earlier a struggling interpreter was sent from the courtroom.
"I can only testify for what I heard - I heard the shots and I heard the scream," Dr Burger says. "I did not hear the cricket bat."
"I'm 100 per cent certain that I heard two people - a female screaming and a male screaming," Dr Burger says.
It was one after the other, she says - the first was a fearful-sounding female, the second was a male shouting "Help! Help! Help!"
Oscar Pistorius has a strong contingent of supporters in court. His team has sent out a list of them as being his brother, Carl Pistorius, sister Aimee Pistorius, uncle Arnold Pistorius, and Arnold's wife Lois.
Also in court are two cousins, Maria Janse van Rensburg and Eunice van Wyk, and three aunts, Diana Binge, Reine Malan and Hermien Pistorius.
In a rather curious question, Roux suggests that when Oscar Pistorius is anxious, he sounds like a female - so asks Dr Burger if perhaps it was him that she heard screaming? Dr Burger said that the person she heard screaming was definitely a woman.
Prosecutor Nel asks his opponent to move on, says Dr Burger has been asked more than five times whether she heard cricket bat. And she has responded the same each time - she didn't.
Defence Counsel Mr Roux has suggested adjourning just a few minutes early, as he wishes to go over some statements before finalising his questions to Dr
Judge Masipa formally adjourns the court, to resume at 9.30am local time - that's 6.30pm Sydney time on Tuesday.
That wraps up today's live coverage of proceedings from Pretoria’s North Gauteng High Court. The first day of the trial of Oscar Pistorius saw the world-famous South African athlete plead not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, model Riva Steenkamp, in his house in Pretoria on Valentine's Day, 2013. Here's a recap of the key developments:
- In a break with tradition, Pistorius' barrister, Barry Roux SC, read a statement to the court on behalf of his client in response to the charges. He said Pistorius denied the allegations that he murdered Ms Steenkamp “in the strongest possible terms” and reaffirmed his position that the shooting had been a “tragic accident”.
- Pistorius said at the time he pulled the trigger four times into the bathroom door, “I believed Reeva was still in bed.”
- Having heard a noise in the bathroom, Pistorius said he reacted by grabbing his weapon “knowing that I was on my stumps and couldn’t defend myself”.
- He said the Crown had “no basis for alleging that I intended to take Reeva’s life” and would strongly dispute any witness who said they heard the couple arguing prior to the killing.
- The first witness to testify was Dr Michelle Burger, a neighbour from near the Silver Woods Estate, who said she heard “a woman’s terrible screams” at about 3am on February 14, 2013.
- She said the screams sounded “very scared” and were "bloodcurdling"; but she also heard a male screaming for help three times shortly after.
- The witness said she heard four gunshots, the pause between the first and the second longer than between the remaining shots.
- Defence counsel Barry Roux grilled Burger about the order of events in her police statement, which was made in Afrikaans. An interpreter who struggled with the assigned task of translating Afrikaans to English was sent from the court as the police statement was examined.
- Mr Roux asked for the court to be adjourned early so as he could prepare further questions for Dr Michelle Burger when court resumes.
Tune in again tomorrow for our live coverage of the Oscar Pristorius murder trial when proceedings resume at 6.30pm Sydney time.
The story Oscar Pistorius murder trial starts in South Africa first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.