150 seconds could break key evidence in Oscar Pistorius trial

2014-03-06 08:54

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The Oscar Pistorius murder trial will today hear a cross-examination that could make or break the testimony of two key witnesses.

Michelle Burger and her husband, Charl Johnson, have both testified that they awoke to a woman’s screams on the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed and then heard gunshots.

This testimony is important to the state’s case because it shows that there may have been an argument before Pistorius fired any shots.

The testimony of the couple also flies in the face of Pistorius’ explanation, which was that he shot Steenkamp by accident, mistaking her for a burglar.

But Barry Roux, representing Pistorius, yesterday said during his cross-examination of Johnson that there were troubling similarities between the statements of Johnson and Burger, as well as their evidence.

Witnesses in a criminal trial are not allowed to discuss the evidence they will give, and Johnson confirmed that he had only discussed the emotional side of the case with his wife and had not watched her testify.

The defence is presenting a version of events whereby Burger and Johnson in fact heard a distraught Pistorius screaming, as opposed to a woman.

They are also claiming that what the couple had heard was not gunshots but a cricket bat hitting a door.

The key trump card being played by Pistorius’ defence in regard to the shots is a phone call Pistorius states he had made at 3.19.30am to estate security.

“On his [Pistorius’] version, we know one thing. He called [security] shortly after breaking down the [bathroom] door,” said Roux.

Importantly, both Burger and Johnson have testified that they made a call at 3.17am and that they heard what they termed the gunshots moments later.

On the defence’s version, this means that Oscar breaking down the bathroom door with his cricket bat coincides with the same time period that Johnson and Burger had heard what they were calling gunshots.

The two phone calls are just 150 seconds apart.

During Johnson’s cross-examination yesterday, Roux said “[Your wife] testified that she heard [the woman’s] voice fading away after the last scream.

“It is significant that, when you [Johnson] gave evidence, you said the last scream faded moments after the last shot.”

Roux said this was not in Johnson or Burger’s witness statements.

“Maybe it’s just an extraordinary coincidence, but it’s the sixth one,” said Roux.

He also said: “You [Johnson and Burger] could just as well have stood together in the witness box.”

Johnson said he had relied, for his testimony, on notes he and his wife had made about the events of the night on the advice of an advocate, before ever having made their statements.

Johnson said he had “no problem” with making his notes, and those of his wife, available to the court.

These notes have the potential to discredit both witnesses if the versions recorded in them differ markedly from their statements or testimony, although prosecutor Gerrie Nel has raised no objection to their inclusion.

Yesterday, testimony was also heard about a shooting incident at Tashas restaurant in Melrose Arch.

Pistorius’ defence said he was trying to make the gun safe, that he opened the breach and that the gun then went off.

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