Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp’s screams under acoustic scrutiny

2014-06-30 16:54

An acoustics engineer has told the Oscar Pistorius murder trial that while people can generally distinguish between male and female screams, it’s not always possible.

Ivan Lin, an electrical and acoustics engineer, said today that “although we [people] can typically distinguish male and female screams, you cannot do so reliably, without exception”.

A key part of the defence’s case is that neighbours living near Pistorius mistook his panicked screams for those of a woman after the shots that killed Reeva Steenkamp had already been fired.

The prosecution’s version of events, on the other hand, has Reeva Steenkamp screaming before the shots were fired and at the same time as Pistorius.

Lin testified extensively about decibel tests that were conducted on how audible and intelligible sounds would be heard over a distance of 80m and 177m.

Lin said that the testing he had conducted showed that if Steenkamp was screaming in Pistorius’ toilet, it was “very unlikely” that the screams would be audible or intelligible from 177m away.

This is significant because witnesses Michelle Burger and her husband, Charl Johnson, who live 177m away, described being woken up by a woman’s “bloodcurdling screams” before they heard what they thought were gunshots.

Both testified that they could distinguish the screams of a man and a woman.

But Lin also testified that from 80m away, sound would be “audible and intelligible”.

This is significant because it supports the evidence of Dr Johan Stipp and Anette Stipp, his wife, who live about 72m from Pistorius’ toilet window. They both testified that they could also hear the screams of a man and a woman.

Lin was, however, at pains to stress that it was almost impossible to recreate the conditions under which a sound was created and transmitted.

He said that factors like atmospheric pressure, ambient noise, temperature and even the length of the grass could affect the way sound travelled, as well as that the languages a person spoke and their cultural background would affect the way they heard sounds.

Lin will be cross-examined by Nel tomorrow after Nel requested a bit of time to come to grips with the technical nature of Lin’s testimony.

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