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Friday, October 21, 2016

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — A neighbor of Olympian Oscar Pistorius told the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday that she thought she heard a woman loudly arguing with someone the night the athlete shot dead his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

Estelle Van der Merwe, who lives less than 100 yards from Pistorius’ house said she was was awoken at 1:06 a.m. by the sound.

She was irritated by the loud voice, and tried to get to sleep by putting a pillow on her head.

“From where I was, it seemed like two people were involved in an argument, but I couldn’t hear the other person’s voice,” she told the court.

About two hours later, she told the court, she heard four loud bangs. Van der Merwe said she asked her husband what the sounds were and he told her they were gunshots.

Pistorius killed Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year when he shot through the closed door of the toilet, off the bathroom. According to prosecutors he fired four shots, including one that hit her head.

Pistorius pleaded not guilty to the murder of his girlfriend. He contends he mistook her for an intruder. Pistorius also pleaded not guilty to two counts of recklessly using a firearm and another of having ammunition without a license.

Van der Merwe was visibly anxious during her testimony. At one point Judge Thokozile Masipa encouraged her, saying, “You can do this.”

Van der Merwe took the stand shortly after another female witness and neighbor, Michelle Burger, broke down weeping at the end of a long and grueling cross-examination by defense advocate Barry Roux, who suggested Burger was unclear about the night’s events. He suggested Burger was convinced of Pistorius’ guilt and had retrospectively embellished her story based on what she had heard on the news.

Burger on Monday described hearing the “bloodcurdling screams” of a petrified woman clearly in fear for her life. Roux said Tuesday it seemed that Burger was determined to avoid any concession that might help Pistorius’ case.

At one point he accused her of misleading the court, referring to her statements as “not too honest.” But he withdrew the comment after prosecutor Gerrie Nel objected to his “sarcastic” tone.

Burger burst into tears when Nel asked her about the raw emotions she felt, hearing the sound of a woman screaming, followed by four gunshots the night Pistorius shot Steenkamp.