I heard high-pitched crying - neighbour

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oscsar barry may 6 REUTERS Oscar Pistorius confers with his defence advocate Barry Roux in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday. Picture: Mike Hutchings

Pretoria - Just days before she was killed, Reeva Steenkamp was introduced to one of Oscar Pistorius's neighbours as the athlete's fiancée.

But, four days later, the same neighbour would see Pistorius weeping over Steenkamp's bullet-riddled body.

The newest witness in the athlete's murder trial is Michael Nhlengethwa, who lived next door to Pistorius at Silverwoods estate.

He said, while he had met the athlete and exchanged greetings on multiple occasions, they had never socialised.

Nhlengethwa said he had also met Reeva Steenkamp just a few days before the shooting. He said Pistorius and Steenkamp were driving a BMW and parked outside his house. Nhlengethwa had commented on the car, and it was then that Steenkamp and Pistorius got out to talk to him. According to the neighbour, Steenkamp immediately hugged him and he remembered her as a warm person.

Apparently, Pistorius introduced Steenkamp as his “fiancée” during this meeting, and the athlete said he was planning on moving out of the estate soon.

He said he wanted to move out of Pretoria to be closer to Steenkamp.

Images showed to the court revealed Nhlengethwa's own balcony was 11m away from Pistorius' s bathroom, where the shooting took place.

On the night of the incident, Nhlengethwa and his wife, Eontle, were home. He said his wife had woken him up in the early hours saying she had heard a bang. He went to his daughter's room to check on her, but she had not woken up from the noise. Nhlengethwa determined it must have come from outside their home, and he looked through the blinds in the room.

He then heard a man crying very loudly, and the couple began panicking, thinking one of their neighbours could have been hurt. Nhlengethwa said the very loud crying was not just sadness, but indicated the person was in danger.

He said the crying was very high pitched, and continuous.

He could only make out a few words: “No, please, no.”

The couple then phoned the estate security. At first, the number was engaged, but he then connected for about 44 seconds the second time. He told the guard that someone should come quickly as he heard crying and someone could be in trouble. Security said they would come. While on the phone, he could still be hear crying next door.

From his bedroom, Nhlengethwa saw a bakkie pull up into the driveway of Pistorius's home.

He decided to go and check on the situation. “There was no way I could just sit there,” he said. The neighbour then went across the street, and saw a security guard at the home. He could still hear the crying, lower than before, but still audible.

He saw the then-estate security manager, Johan Stander, outside, and asked him if Pistorius was alright.

Stander said Pistorius was alright but it would be better for Nhlengethwa to check for himself. He looked inside, and saw Pistorius kneeling next to Steenkamp's bloody body. “He was just crying,” he said. Nhlengethwa said Pistorius was asking Dr Johan Stipp, another neighbour who arrived earlier on the scene, to help him.

“I couldn't take watching what I saw,” he said. Nhlengethwa went back outside, and a short while later, paramedics arrived and brought out a stretcher.

He stayed for a few more minutes, but he felt there was not much more he could do and left the scene.

Nhlengethwa was approached by police for a statement later that morning as he was leaving home in his car. He told the officer to come to his home and make an appointment for the statement, but, even the next morning, two other female officers approached him the same way. He asked them again to call him to organise the interview. None of the officers ever came back, according to Nhlengethwa.

It was only some time later, after Captain Mike van Aardt approached him at his home that Nhlengethwa and his wife were able to give their individual statements.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked about the consultations between Nhlengethwa and the prosecution team, as he was formerly a State witness.

Nhlengethwa said Nel had asked if he wanted to add anything to his statement, but he didn't feel there was anything else to include.

The neighbour said he had been following the case, but didn't want to come to court to give false information.

Some of Pistorius's neighbours claimed they heard gunshots coming from the athlete's home, followed by screaming of a woman, followed by further gunshots. This contradicted the athlete's version that he had fired the four shots in quick succession.

Nel asked if Nhlengethwa had heard any noises coming from the home after the bangs that had awoken his wife that could have been Pistorius breaking down the bathroom door, which he claims he did to get to Steenkamp after the shooting.

Nhlengethwa said he had not.

Nel said that during his own consultations with Nhlengethwa, they had determined he had never heard anyone scream. But the neighbour said that the intense crying he heard could have been interpreted as screaming.

He said that, in his mother tongue, the words for crying and screaming were somewhat interchangeable.

Nel said that the Stipps and fellow neighbours, the Burgers, had testified to hearing a woman screaming.

Nhlengethwa said he never heard such a noise.

Nel put it to Nhlengethwa that Michelle Burger had heard four gunshots, but Nhlengethwa said he had not heard these noises.

Nel said that Pistorius had testified he'd never screamed so loudly, but the neighbour said he'd only heard a man crying.

He also added on the night, he wasn't entirely sure if Pistorius had been the one to shoot Steenkamp.

Nhlengethwa was asked about whether any lights were on at Pistorius's home on the night of the shooting.

Nhlengethwa said he was unsure.

Nel posited the defence's case was that the sound of the cricket bat breaking down the door was similar to the sound of gunshots, and certain neighbours were confused by this similarity. But Nhlengethwa said he had not heard these noises.

Eontle Nhlengethwa as then called to the stand.

She said she knew Pistorius as a neighbour, but had never met Steenkamp.

On the night of the shooting, she said she'd gone to bed between 10 and 11pm.

In the early hours, she had heard a very loud bang that woke her from her sleep.

She couldn't tell where the noise was coming from, but in her fear, she woke up her husband. While he checked on their children, she realised that the noise must have come from outside the home.

While her husband was outside the bedroom, she heard a male voice calling out: “Help, help, help!”

She then heard loud crying, the sound of a person who was very hurt and needed help.

Nhlengethwa said the high-pitched male voice was tremoring, and she demonstrated the noise to the court.

She heard the voice crying, talking and then crying again.

The pair decided to call Silverwoods security. While her husband was calling, she said she was frightened as she remained on the bed, but could not remember what her husband said on the phone.

After noting a car passing by their home and parking in Pistorius's driveway, Nhlengethwa's husband decided to head over to the home.

Her husband was away for some time, but when he returned and described what he had seen, he said he didn't know exactly what had happened at Pistorius' home.

Some time later, the couple were approached by police for their written statements. Nel's cross-examination first determined that Nhlengethwa and her husband were following the trial on television quite closely.

Nel told the court it was interesting that several neighbours heard the calling for help, but that Johan Stipp had heard these calls before a second set of shot-like noises.

Nel once again brought up Pistorius's version of breaking down the door, and how the defence argued that the cricket bat noises could have been mistaken for gunshots.

Nhlengethwa said she had not heard these second noises. She also said she'd never heard a woman screaming.

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