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Oscar Pistorius trial: 'Sound was cricket bat banging bathroom door, not gunshots'

Published 05/03/2014

Oscar Pistorius sits with his head in his hands in the dock on the third day of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Siphiwe Sibeko, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius sits with his head in his hands in the dock on the third day of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Siphiwe Sibeko, Pool)

The chief defence lawyer in Oscar Pistorius' murder trial has sought to undermine the prosecution evidence of a couple who say they heard a woman's screams and gunfire the night the athlete fatally shot his girlfriend.

Lawyer Barry Roux said telephone records will show that the banging sounds the neighbours heard were instead a distressed Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a cricket bat to get to fatally wounded girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Charl Johnson and his wife Michelle Burger have testified to hearing a sequence of events in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year that involved a woman screaming, a man shouting for help and then the sound of gunshots.

Cross-examining Mr Johnson on the third day of the blockbuster trial, Mr Roux said call records will show Pistorius called an estate manager at around 3.19am and soon after he bashed in the door with the bat.

In Mr Johnson and Ms Burger's evidence, they said they heard what they described as shots straight after making a call to security at 3.16am. The similar times show the sounds were the bat on the door, Mr Roux argued.

"There is only one thing you could have heard, because it coincides precisely," Mr Roux said to Mr Johnson. "That was the time that he (Pistorius) broke down the door (with the bat)."

Mr Johnson replied, addressing the judge: "My lady, I am convinced the sound I heard was gunshots."

"I understand," Mr Roux said in the exchange, suggesting Mr Johnson had convinced himself they were shots.

Throwing doubt on the witnesses' recollection of the sequence is crucial for Pistorius' defence after the state maintained there was a loud argument on the night he shot Ms Steenkamp through a door in his bathroom and screams and shouts before a gun was fired.

Pistorius' team wants to show the screams were Pistorius calling for help after the accidental shots.

After a break, prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked for permission to stand down Mr Johnson until tomorrow to get more records. The judge agreed and the case moved on to its fourth witness.

Pistorius, 27, has said he shot 29-year-old Ms Steenkamp by accident, fearing she was a dangerous intruder in his home. The case has transfixed people around the world, and the proceedings are being broadcast on television, adding to the scrutiny of South Africa's criminal justice system as well as the character of a globally-admired athlete whose career peaked when he ran in the 2012 Olympics.

Pistorius was born without fibula bones because of a congenital defect and his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old. He has run on carbon-fibre blades and was initially banned from competing against able-bodied peers because many argued that his blades gave him an unfair advantage. He was later cleared to compete. He is a multiple Paralympic medallist but he failed to win a medal at the London Olympics.

Oscar Pistorius right, is comforted by his brother, Carl Pistorius, inside court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday May 5, 2014 (AP Photo/Ihsaan Haffejee, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius right, is comforted by his brother, Carl Pistorius, inside court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday May 5, 2014 (AP Photo/Ihsaan Haffejee, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, April 9
Oscar Pistorius looks straight ahead inside a courtroom at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday May 5 (AP Photo/Ihsaan Haffejee, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, May 5
June Steenkamp listens to Oscar during cross examination in the Pretoria High Court on April 11, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Craig Nieuwenhuizen/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gina Myers, Reeva Steenkamp's best friend, is overcome with emotion as she listens to Oscar Pistorius' testimony in the Pretoria High Court on April 9, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Oscar Pistorius stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi - Pool/Getty Images)
Sister of Oscar Pistorius, Aimee Pistorius, second from right, cries as she listens as her brother testifies in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, April 8, 2014. Pistorius is charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day 2013. (AP Photo/Kim Ludbrook, Pool)
Oscar and Aimee Pistorius at the Pretoria High Court on April 7, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Pistorius, stands accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2014. This is Pistorius' official trial, the result of which will determine the paralympian athlete's fate. (Photo by Deaan Vivier - Pool/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius reacts as he listens to evidence by a pathologist in court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, April 7, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)
June Steenkamp (2nd L), Reeva Steenkamp's mother listens to Oscar Pistorius' testimony in the Pretoria High Court on April 9, 2014
Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Oscar Pistorius sits with his head in his hands in the dock on the third day of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine's Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Siphiwe Sibeko, Pool)
Reporters listen to the live feed from the court on the third day of Oscra Pistorius's trial on March 5, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius blocks his ears inside the high court on the second day of his trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Kim Ludbrook, Pool)
Media and public surround the car carrying Oscar Pistorius as he leaves the North Gauteng High Court after the second day of his trial accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on March 4, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A stray dog sits next to a newspaper poster on the second day of the Oscar Pistorius trial on March 4, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius (C) leaves North Gauteng High Court amid a media scrum after the second day of his trial accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on March 4, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Office workers watch Oscar Pistorius leave North Gauteng High Court amid a media scrum after the second day of his trial accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on March 4, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Lawyer for Oscar Pistorius, Barry Roux, in court on the second day of Pistorius' trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentines Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Kim Ludbrook, Pool)
Media and locals brave the rain as they wait to try and get a glimpse of Oscar Pistorius as he leaves North Gauteng High Court at the end of the first day of his trial accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A television reporter holds a newpaper as he files a report from inside the foyer of North Gauteng High Court as Oscar Pistorius faces trial accused of the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Abandoned step ladders and equipment stand on the pavement outside North Gauteng High Court as Oscar Pistrious slips into court through another door and journalists pursue him on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Oscar Pistorius looks shortly after arriving for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)
Oscar Pistorius arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)
From left, Oscar Pistorius' sister Aimee, his aunt Lois, and uncle Arnold wait for the start of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, Pool)
June Steenkamp, the mother of as Reeva Steenkamp, arrives at the high court for the start of the trial of Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 03: A newspaper vendor sells the Pretoria News as the Oscar Pistorius trail starts at North Gauteng High Court on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, aged 27, is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius denies the allegation claiming he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder inside their home on Valentines Day 2013. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Aimee Pistorius,left, the sister of Oscar Pistorius, speaks with unidentified people as she arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Oscar Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
Carl Pistorius, right, the brother of Oscar Pistorius walks outside the high court before the start of his brother's trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock prior to the start of his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe, ool)
Oscar Pistorius, center front, arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo)
Carl Pistorius, at center in blue suit, the brother of Oscar Pistorius is escorted by police as he arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Oscar Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 03: June Steenkamp (R), the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, arrives at North Gauteng High Court for the trial of Oscar Pistorius on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, aged 27, is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius denies the allegation claiming he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder inside their home on Valentines Day 2013. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Reeva Steenkamp's coffin arrives at her funeral ceremony in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (AP)
Oscar Pistorius weeps in court in Pretoria at his bail hearing in the murder case of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp (AP)
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, center. leaves the Boschkop police station, east of Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 en route to appear in court charged with murder. Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was taken into custody and was expected to appear in court Thursday after a 30-year-old woman who was believed to be his girlfriend was shot dead at his home in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. (AP Photo/Chris Collingridge) SOUTH AFRICA OUT
In this Nov. 4, 2012 photo, South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp, believed to be his girlfriend, at an awards ceremony, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was taken into custody and was expected to appear in court Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, after a 30-year-old woman who was believed to be his girlfriend was shot dead at his home in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. (AP Photo/Lucky Nxumalo-Citypress) SOUTH AFRICA OUT
File photo dated 08/09/12 of Oscar Pistorius after winning his gold medal at the Paralympic games in 2012. A woman has been found shot dead at his South African home. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Saturday September 8, 2012. See PA story POLICE Pistorius. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire
Reality TV show Tropika Island of Treasure, featuring Reeva Steenkamp, was filmed last year (AP/Stimulii)
This aerial image taken from video provided by VNS24/7 on Thursday Feb. 14, 2013, shows the gated housing complex with the home of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria, South Africa. Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been arrested in the shooting death of his girlfriend, police and the woman's talent agent said Thursday. (AP Photo/VNS24/7)
Barry Steenkamp sympathised that Oscar Pistorius hero must be 'going through a difficult time' after his daughter Reeva was shot dead (AP)

Lawyer Mr Roux earlier attacked the evidence of Mr Johnson and Ms Burger by also saying similarities in their accounts indicated that they had aligned their versions at the expense of truth.

In his evidence, Mr Johnson told the court in South African capital Pretoria that he heard the cries of a terrified woman and shooting around the time that Pistorius killed Ms Steenkamp.

Mr Johnson's wife, Ms Burger, had given similar evidence and at one point broke down in tears because of what she said was the memory of the terrified screams of a woman.

Mr Roux said there were differences between the statements that Mr Johnson and Ms Burger had given to police after the shooting, and evidence that they gave in court. Both the statements and the evidence given in court shared similarities, Mr Roux said, implying that the couple had contaminated their evidence by talking through what they were going to say.

"You could just as well have stood together in the witness box," Mr Roux said. "What do you say to that?"

The tart assertion drew a caution from Judge Thokozile Masipa, who told Mr Roux he had gone too far.

Mr Roux contended that crucial elements in the evidence of the couple were missing in their earlier comments to police, including the statements that they heard a woman's screams rising in anxiety and intensity and that they heard the woman's voice "fading" after the last in a volley of gunshots.

Mr Johnson suggested that he and his wife were more expressive while giving evidence in court than when providing information for a police document.

"I would venture a guess that it's the way you verbally tell the story," he said. "There's a lot more emotion involved ... whereas the statement is more factual."

At the beginning of proceedings today, prosecutor Mr Nel said Mr Johnson's telephone number had been read out in court a day earlier. Mr Johnson then said he had since received a "large amount" of missed calls.

He described one voicemail message as saying: "Why are you lying in court? You know Oscar didn't kill Reeva. It's not cool."

Further reading:

Oscar Pistorius trial: The case for and against premeditated murder - interactive graphic

Oscar Pistorius trial: Paddy Power defends 'sick' betting advert, describing murder case as 'like OJ Simpson on steroids'

Oscar Pistorius trial: Reeva Steenkamp murder witness tells court 'When I'm in the shower, I relive her shouts'  

Oscar Pistorius trial: 'Bloodcurdling screams, then four gunshots' described by Reeva Steenkamp murder witness  

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