Pistorius pleads not guilty as witness describes 'terrible screams'
PRETORIA - Agence France-Presse
Oscar Pistorius sits in court ahead of his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria March 3, 2014. REUTERS PhotoSouth African Paralympian star Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty Monday to murdering his girlfriend as his trial opened with a witness testifying she heard terrible screams on the night of the killing.
Pistorius, whose trial is being broadcast around the world, faces a life sentence if convicted of the Valentine's Day killing of model and reality television star Reeva Steenkamp a year ago.
After a state prosecutor charged that Pistorius "unlawfully and intentionally did kill" girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, he entered a plea of "not guilty, my lady."
Pistorius, 27, a double amputee sporting hero known as the "Blader Runner" for his carbon-fibre running blades, also pleaded not guilty to three unrelated gun charges.
In a statement read out by his lawyer Kenny Oldwage, he described her death as a "tragic accident" saying he had mistaken her for an intruder.
He admitted killing Steenkamp, but denied murderous intent. "This allegation is denied in the strongest terms," he said. "We were in a loving relationship."
A single judge, Thokozile Masipa, is presiding in the case that has already been likened to the murder trial of American footballer OJ Simpson over his ex-wife and a friend in 1995.
The first prosecution witness to take the stand, Michelle Burger, said she woken at around 3 a.m. by screams from the Pistorius home in an upmarket Johannesburg gated community.
"She screamed terribly and she yelled for help," Burger told the court. She said she heard four shots and thought "people were being attacked in their homes."
Prosecutors to contradict Pistorius' account
As the trial got under way inside the courtroom, the victim's black-clad mother June came face-to-face with Pistorius for the first time since the killing.
"I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva," she told a British newspaper ahead of the trial.
Further down from her on the wood-panelled bench sat Pistorius's brother Carl, sister Aimee and a handful other relatives.
The state is seeking to prove that Pistorius killed Steenkamp in a rage after the couple quarrelled in the early hours of February 14, 2013.
Prosecutors are also expected to claim that Pistorius had watched pornography just before the shooting, apparently contradicting his account of events.
The athlete, the first double amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the London 2012 Olympics, will also be asked why he allegedly told security guards at his luxury estate that everything was fine when they phoned after hearing gunshots.
In a bid to illustrate a history of reckless behaviour with firearms, the state claims that Pistorius on two occasions fired a pistol in public, once through the sunroof of a moving car and then at a busy restaurant.
Investigators travelled to the United States to seek help from the FBI and computer giant Apple to access information on Pistorius's iPhone.
The state has a exhaustive list of 107 witnesses that includes the defendant's former girlfriends, though it is unlikely everyone will be called to testify.
If found guilty of premeditated murder, Pistorius faces 25 years in South Africa's notoriously brutal jails and an abrupt end to his glittering sporting career.