PRETORIA — For two days, the witness in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius kept her composure. Then, just as her testimony was about to finish, she broke down in tears at what she said was the memory of the screams she heard on the night the double-amputee athlete fatally shot his girlfriend in his South African home.
Michelle Burger, a neighbor of Pistorius who took the stand on the second day of a trial watched around the world, remained calm through intense questioning by the chief defense lawyer. In a final exchange with the lead prosecutor Tuesday, however, emotion washed over her as she recalled what she described as the terrified screams of a woman last year.
‘‘When I’m in the shower, I relive her shouts,’’ Burger said in an apparent reference to her trauma just after the shooting, when a police captain took her statement. When Gerrie Nel, the prosecutor, asked her about her emotions at the time, she said the experience was ‘‘quite raw.’’
Burger, a university lecturer, lives 193 yards from Pistorius’s house, where his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, died in what the runner said was an accident.
Burger testified she heard a man and a woman shouting, then the sound of four gunshots. She said the woman’s screams continued during the gunshots and quickly faded away after the final one. She was the first witness called by the prosecution, which contends that Pistorius intentionally killed Steenkamp after a loud argument.
Her testimony contradicts Pistorius’s account. He says he fired four times through the toilet cubicle door, hitting Steenkamp three times in the head, arm and hip or side area after thinking she was a dangerous intruder. He has pleaded not guilty.
The defense contends that Burger may have been asleep when the gunshots were fired, and then mistakenly thought she was hearing gunfire when in fact it was the sound of Pistorius breaking the toilet cubicle door with a cricket bat after realizing he had shot his girlfriend.
During cross-examination of Burger, chief defense lawyer Barry Roux suggested she was mistaken in saying that she heard a woman screaming and that it was actually Pistorius shouting for help in a high voice after accidentally shooting Steenkamp.
Giving sometimes grisly details of the killing of the 29-year-old model, Roux said Steenkamp was shot in the head, which would have resulted in brain damage and ‘‘no cognitive function’’ and so she wouldn’t have been able to scream just after the last bullet struck, as Burger testified.
Roux said that an expert would later testify in the trial that ‘‘with the head shot, she [Steenkamp] would have dropped down immediately.’’
Burger disagreed. ‘‘I heard her voice just after the last shot,’’ she said. ‘‘It faded away.’’
Her husband, Charl Johnson, also testified that ‘‘the last scream faded moments after the last gunshot was fired.’’