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Pretoria - Shortly after four shots rang out through the stately Silverwoods Country Estate, everything went dead quiet. Then there was loud crying.
This was the evidence of Estelle van der Merwe, the second witness in the Pretoria High Court murder trial of Oscar Pistorius.
She and her husband lived 98m across the road from Pistorius’s home.
On Tuesday, Van der Merwe testified how she had been woken up shortly before 2am on Valentine’s Day last year by two people seemingly fighting.
“I heard a woman’s voice and people speaking loudly; it appeared as if they were fighting. I could not make out what they were saying or what language they spoke… I only heard a woman’s voice.”
A visibly nervous Van der Merwe said she was highly irritated with the fighting, as she had to sleep because her son was starting his exams.
“I stuck a pillow over my head in the hope of falling asleep. At one stage I got up and looked out of the window at the Farm Inn. I could not see anything and went back to bed. Around 3am I heard four thudding sounds – one after the other.”
Van der Merwe said her husband woke up and told her it was gunshots. He looked out of the window but could not see anything, and went back to bed.
“The next moment we heard a huge commotion. We phoned security to find out what happened. I then heard the sound of someone crying loudly. I asked my husband who was crying like that and he said it was Oscar. To me it sounded like a woman’s voice.”
Van der Merwe said that when she again looked out of the window, she saw an ambulance in front of Pistorius’s home.
Asked whether, since that evening, she had heard sounds emanating from Pistorius’s home, Van der Merwe said she had.
Last month, she was woken by loud male voices, which sounded as if they were fighting. When she looked out of the window, she saw a man leaving Pistorius’s home.
During cross-examination, defence advocate Barry Roux SC cleared this up and told Van der Merwe the sounds she heard on February 21 was the defence team conducting tests from Pistorius’s home between 2 and 3am.
“You would not have heard screams (fighting from Pistorius home) and you know why? Because from your balcony, his bedroom is on the opposite side.”
Roux, while not grilling Van der Merwe in the way he did Michelle Burger on Monday, calmly told Van der Merwe she never heard any arguing that fatal night.
“All you heard was a woman’s voice. You could not hear the words or language. It was far from your house. You did not even know from where it came.”
Van der Merwe conceded she had no idea where the arguing came from, and could not remember everything as it was more than a year ago, but she was adamant she had heard a woman embroiled in an argument.
Charl Johnson, Burger’s husband, was the last witness to take the stand on Tuesday and he, too, testified about how he and his wife were woken up by the loud screams of a woman. He jumped up and went to the balcony.
“I could hear a person screaming, I could hear she was in trouble, she was clearly distressed. I heard a lady scream ‘Help!’. I don’t know how long after that a man screamed ‘Help, help, help’.”
Both he and his wife believed it was a house robbery, and after trying to phone security, Johnson went back to the balcony.
“The screams intensified and I then heard shots. During the shots I heard a lady screaming again. The last scream faded away with the last shot.”
Johnson said he told friends afterwards he had heard five to six shots. “But I was not sure. I did not count them.”
He said they were private people who did not want to get involved, but after hearing Pistorius’s version during his bail application that only one person shouted that night – Pistorius himself – they felt obliged to come forward.
Johnson was due to proceed on Wednesday with his evidence for the State, before being cross-examined by Roux.