Roux tries to prove couple compared notes

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MEDIA POOL

Oscar Pistorius is seen in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday. Picture: Alon Skuy

Pretoria - The defence in the Oscar Pistorius trial has spent Wednesday morning trying to prove that a husband and wife pair of witnesses compared notes before giving their testimony.

The testimony of Silver Stream estate resident, Charl Johnson, continued in the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday morning.

Johnson and his wife, first witness Michelle Burger, have both provided their version of events on the night Reeva Steenkamp was shot.

The couple lived about 170 metres from Pistorius's Silverwoods Estate home.

According to both Burger and Johnson, there was a series of screams and shouts from both a man and a woman coming from Pistorius's home before she heard gunshots fired in the distance - as well as more female screams during the gunshots and just after.

 

Defence advocate Barry Roux began his cross-examination, by asking if Johnson and his wife had seen each other's statements.

On Tuesday, Roux had accused Burger of having an extremely similar statement to her husband, down to the structure of some of the paragraphs within.

Johnson said he had not even read Burger's personal notes she had written about the night of the shooting.

Roux then presented Johnson's statement that he made to investigating officer Captain Mike van Aardt weeks after the incident.

He pointed out that Johnson had not dealt with - in detail - the woman's screaming in his statement while phoning security.

Burger testified that she had not been concentrating on the screaming when the couple were calling police.

Roux said that Johnson, without prompting from the State, had mentioned factors about the call and how he had not been concentrating on the screams that were not in his own statement.

Johnson said that this level of detail was mentioned not in his statement, but in his personal notes that he wrote prior to his interview with Van Aardt.

Roux insisted that these notes be provided to the court, a request to which Johnson agreed.

Johnson said he made these notes by recommendation of the advocate, who they had contacted for advice on how they should come forward with their version of events.

In his statement, Johnson said he heard the woman screaming, but in his evidence to the court, Johnson had “defined” the screaming and its growing intensity. However, Johnson was unable to say if this was also in his notes.

Roux pointed out that this was similar to how Burger had testified, yet it was in neither of their police statements.

Johnson said there was much more emotion involved in verbally telling the story.

In the statement, Johnson said he heard a woman screaming before the volley of shots. However, in Burger's evidence, she said she heard the screaming during the shots, just as Johnson had also mentioned in his testimony.

The couple also said in their statements that the last scream was also heard about 2 seconds after the final shot. But Roux said that according to Burger's evidence the voice faded away after the shot - which was also echoed by Johnson when he took the stand.

Roux said Johnson had used the same phrasing as his wife when she had taken the stand - specifically the word “fade”.

It was also revealed that before Burger had testified and during breaks, she and her husband had been in the witness room.

Johnson then mentioned that his wife had counted the number of shots accurately, and he had not.

Roux said this was further evidence that Johnson and Burger had discussed their stories, as the number of shots that Johnson's statement had thought he heard was only brought up in Burger's testimony.

Johnson insisted that he had “honestly” never discussed his wife's testimony with her.

“When witnesses start the word “honestly”... I start to wonder about it,” said Roux.

The defence advocate then said that he and his wife's reliability was compromised, which prompted Judge Thokozile Masipa to ask if Roux had gone “a bit too far”.

Roux then began asking how long it had been before the shots he had heard the screaming from Pistorius's home.

But Johnson was unable to answer exactly how long it had been.

In his testimony on Tuesday, Johnson had mentioned he thought that there must have been neighbours even closer to the Pistorius' home than he, and who would have possibly heard the incident more clearly.

According to Johnson, he had heard two screams by the time he had gotten to his home's balcony. He then heard another scream, followed by a woman and then a man shouting: “Help, help”.

Roux said that in Johnson's version, Burger had only woken up after Johnson had jumped from the bed, contrary to Burger's testimony that said she had woken up to the screams.

The defence also questioned Johnson's train of thought that the screams could be a result of a house robbery. When they didn't hear the man screaming again after the shots, the couple thought that perhaps he had been shot.

Roux then began a familiar line of questioning, that the loud noises were the sound of Pistorius breaking down the bathroom door with a cricket bat after the shooting.

Roux then told the court that at 3:17am, Johnson had called security, before moving back to the balcony.

But a minute and a half later, Pistorius had already made a call after breaking down the door.

This timeline helped further Roux's argument that the noises were the cricket bat against the door.

But Johnson was convinced the noises were gunshots.

Roux said that it was the man's screaming that didn't make sense.

He asked if Johnson had heard the bashing of a door after the supposed gunshots. Johnson said he did not.

Roux said that while he didn't think Johnson was lying, he had just convinced himself of what he heard based on what he had learned after the case.

Turning to face Pistorius, Roux said that Johnson had to consider other possibilities, as a man's life was at stake.The trial continues.

Shain.Germaner@inl.co.za

The Star

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.


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