Witness in Oscar Pistorius trial heard 'terrified screaming'

Witness in Oscar Pistorius trial heard 'terrified screaming'
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Monday, March 24, 2014 - 4:34am

A neighbor of Oscar Pistorius said she heard "terrified, terrified screaming" the morning the Olympian killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

The testimony by Anette Stipp began the trial's fourth week.

Questioned by prosecutor Gerrie Nel, Stipp said she awoke early the morning of February 14, 2013, and heard "terrified, terrified screaming ... It sounds to me as if there's a family murder, why else would she scream like that."

Stipp described hearing a series of three shots, a woman screaming, also a man screaming, and then three more shots before the screaming stopped.

Her husband, Dr. Johan Stipp, testified earlier in the trial.

Fatal mistake

Pistorius admits that the killed Steenkamp, firing four shots through a closed door in his house in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Three hit her, with the last one probably killing her almost instantly, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy.

But Pistorius says he thought she was an intruder in his pitch-black house and believed he was firing in self-defense. He pleaded not guilty to murder.

The trial was originally scheduled to last until March 20 but will now continue until the middle of May, the South African court hearing the case said Sunday.

The trial, which enters its fourth week on Monday, will continue until April 4, then break for a one-week recess before resuming from April 14 until May 16, the Pretoria court announced in a written statement. It said "all parties involved" had agreed to the dates. The trial began on March 3.

Nel's surprise announcement on Wednesday that he was nearly done prompted questions about whether the prosecutor was thinking about throwing in the towel, whether he had surprise new evidence to study, or whether the state's case was simply running ahead of schedule.

The next day Pistorius said he would sell his home to fund legal costs. Pistorius hasn't returned to the house where he killed Steenkamp since her death, according to a statement on his website.

Surprises in store?

The start of the trial's fourth week comes as Nel prepares to rest his case.

One of the country's top state prosecutors, Nel is famous for pulling out surprises at the last minute. Indeed, he stunned trial-watchers last week when he announced suddenly on Wednesday that he had only four or five more witnesses to call and then would consider wrapping up the state's case.

So who are those witnesses?

Before the trial began, he listed a possible 107 witnesses, ranging from police and paramedics to Pistorius' own father, sister and uncle.

So far Nel has put 19 people on the stand, from blood spatter and ballistics experts to neighbors who say they heard screaming and gunshots the night Pistorius, 27, killed his girlfriend Steenkamp.

It seems unlikely that Pistorius' sister Aimee or uncle Arnold will be called; they have been in court every day, and witnesses aren't supposed to hear each other's testimony.

But his father, Heinrich, hasn't been there, raising the possibility that Nel will force him to testify against his own son.

Close friends of Steenkamp and Pistorius are also on the witness list, as is former police officer Hilton Botha, who was pulled off the case when he was charged with attempted murder himself, accused of firing on a minibus full of people in 2011.

He resigned from the police force soon after.

The two neighbors who arrived first when Pistorius killed Steenkamp, Johan and Clarice Stander, seem likely state witnesses.

The ranking police officer on the scene that night, G.S. van Rensburg, testified that Pistorius asked them to take Steenkamp to a hospital and that they persuaded him instead to call an ambulance.

The ambulance arrived before van Rensburg, he said, but it was too late. Steenkamp, 29, was dead.

Intense media interest

There has been intense media interest in the case in South Africa and beyond. Pistorius first achieved global fame as an outstanding double amputee sprinter who ran with special prostheses that earned him the nickname "Blade Runner."

Judge Thokozile Masipa will decide the verdict with the help of two lay people called assessors. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each of two unrelated gun indictments and 15 years for a firearms charge he also faces.

If he isn't convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence.

The sentence for culpable homicide is at the judge's discretion.

Almost the entire trial has been televised, though individual witnesses can choose not to be shown on television.

CNN's Ed Payne and CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps contributed to this report. 

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