Jerome Starkey, in Pretoria
Neighbours who heard screaming on the night Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend designed their testimony to “incriminate the accused”, the runner’s barrister claimed in court today.
Barry Roux, who has already reduced one witness to tears, spent the morning chipping away at Charl Johnson’s testimony, wrangling over how and when his notes were made, questioning his ability to recognise gunshots, and once again arguing that what he thought were gunshots were in fact the sounds of Mr Pistorius breaking down a bathroom door with a cricket bat.
“The deceased would have been, at the time you heard the screams, in a locked toilet when the door was locked and the window was closed,” Mr Roux said. “I put it to you that there’s no way, even standing on the balcony, even standing closer that there’s no way you would be able to hear screams.”
But in a series of increasingly feisty exchanges, Mr Johnson rejected Mr Roux’s account.
“I have difficulty with his speculation, or his version,” Mr Johnson told the judge.
“Mine is not speculation,” insisted Mr Roux.
Mr Johnson, an IT consultant, told the judge that sound travels “extremely far” in and around the gated community where they live n Eastern Pretoria.
“Often we hear jackal calls … and it reminds us of the screams we heard,” he added.
Mr Pistorius, 27, has admitted shooting Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year but he said he mistook her for an intruder and denies the charge of premeditated murder.
Mr Johnson, whose wife had already testified to hearing the bloodcurdling screams of a terrified woman, was barely audible when he first took the stand on Tuesday.
There were moments on Thursday when he seemed to turn the tables on his inquisitor.
“You have never met the accused [Mr Pistorius]. You don’t know what it sounds like when he is anxious and he screams,” Mr Roux said.
“I am confident that I heard a lady screaming,” Mr Johnson insisted.
When Mr Roux used the timing of two phone calls to argue that Mr Johnson heard the cricket bat, not a pistol, the witness demanded to know if the times had been taken from the same clock.
That didn’t matter, Mr Roux insisted. “Let’s just accept it for the moment,” he said.
Mr Johnson also questioned the mechanics of the cricket bat theory.
“Let’s assume that it was handled like an axe, when you are chopping wood,” Mr Johnson said. “The time it takes to reload your backswing takes more time than the rapid shots I heard from the gun. Therefore it is difficult for me to accept Mr Roux’s version. I also believe that a cricket bat striking a door would make a different sound.”
The barrister mocked Mr Johnson for suggesting the adrenaline would have heightened his senses. Why then, Mr Roux asked, was he unclear on the number of gunshots?
Senses, Mr Johnson explained, are taste, touch, hearing smell and sight. “I don’t use any of them to count,” he said.