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Oscar Pistorius weeps as defense grills witness on her account of events

Pistorius murder trial enters day two as defense questions witness credibility

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Pistorius murder trial enters day two as defense questions witness credibility

Pistorius murder trial enters day two as defense questions witness credibility
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PRETORIA, South Africa – Oscar Pistorius' defense attorney Barry Roux is an imposing man.

Broad-shouldered and tall, he cuts a formidable figure at the front of Courtroom GD. But his real clout is revealed during cross-examination, which at one point had Pistorius burying his head in his hands, weeping.

During the Pistorius' February bail hearing for the murder of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, Roux reduced former investigating officer Hilton Botha – a man with 24 years of experience in the police service – to a confused stutter, with the officer eventually admitting that he "didn't have any facts."

Roux is regarded as one of South Africa's foremost attorneys, defending a slew of high-profile clients, including several wealthy businessmen on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

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Barry Roux attends the second day of trial at the North Gauteng High Court. (REUTERS)

The seasoned lawyer is believed to be receiving more than $5,000 a day to defend the Blade Runner, who is on trial for the shooting death of Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013.

Roux's resonant voice cajoles and accuses, rarely letting an issue drop until he's got what he wants. But he may have met his match in prosecution witness Michelle Burger.

In a salmon-pink shirt and tailored black blazer on her second day of testimony, the petite university lecturer politely stood her ground, to the point that prosecutor Gerrie Nel was forced to become indignant on her behalf, defending her after Roux's tone became patronizing and sarcastic.

Burger, who lives some 580 feet from Pistorius, in a neighboring housing estate, has consistently said she was woken by a woman's screams, followed by a man's voice calling for help, then four gunshots, and a woman's voice fading in the distance.

The defense has repeatedly tried to cast aspersions on her credibility and reliability as a witness. Burger remained unmoved by Roux's speculative interrogation, even after she was asked the same question eight times.

When Roux insisted that the "bangs" she heard could have been the sound of a birchwood cricket bat against a Maranti wood door, instead of gunshots, Burger responded that she is familiar with the sound of gunshots and has suggested that the defense call an expert to verify the sound of a bat on a door.

[Related: Day 1 of Pistorius trial brings testimony of 'bloodcurdling' screams]

When Roux asked how, if she had never heard Pistorius scream with fear and anxiety, she could be so sure he would not sound like a woman, Burger remained convinced that she clearly heard "two distinct voices" on that Valentine's morning.

When Roux questioned the independence of her statement to police, comparing it paragraph by paragraph to her husband's, noting that the similarities in phrasing are almost akin to one "being used as a template for the other," Burger pointed out that the same police officer – investigating officer Mike van Aardt – took both statements, and that she simply answered questions in the sequence they were asked.

Roux has repeatedly suggested that Burger has a presumption of Pistorius' guilt, suggesting that retrospective knowledge gained from the media coverage of the case was influencing her testimony. Burger says her account of what she heard has not changed, challenging the defense to question the friends and colleagues she related the incident to immediately after it happened.

Roux referenced the statement of a prosecution ballistics expert, pointing out that the brain damage Steenkamp, Pistorius' girlfriend, suffered from one of the bullets was so extensive she would have been unable to make a sound. Still, Burger remained adamant that she heard a female voice fading into the distance.

At one point, as Roux read details of the post mortum, which noted bullet fragments pulled from Steenkamp's head, Pistorius, previously composed in a black pinstriped suit and navy tie, started to weep quietly in the dock, his head in his hands.

The ballistics and forensic reports to come will be crucial for both sides, but other questions remain.

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Members of the media photograph Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius. (REUTERS)

As Roux pointed out in his cross-examination, "It would make no sense when a man is about to kill his girlfriend, for him to shout 'help.' " But Burger referred the court to Pistorius himself for an explanation, saying she could only relate what she heard.

Calm throughout the lengthy interrogation by Roux, Burger appeared unflappable, but in re-examination when prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked her about her emotions when she made her statement to the police, she broke down into tears.

"It was quite raw," Burger said, her voice breaking. "When I'm in the shower, I relive her shouts."

On the doorstep of the North Gauteng High Court, amid the tents collapsing under the weight of a relentless rain that has flooded the media village, television anchors wrapped their feet in plastic bags to report from under umbrellas. One photographer sat outside court wringing out her socks.

After arriving in a rain-spattered charcoal grey coat, the star athlete sat quietly in the dock taking notes and passing messages to his defense team, marking documents with colored sticky tabs and an orange highlighter.

The Pistorius defense team has begun to drop hints about what is to come in its arguments, confirming that it has conducted sound tests in the area, during the early hours of the morning, to ascertain what would be audible where.

[Related: Steenkamp's mother forgives Pistorius]

The team suggests that the State prosecution's second witness, Estelle van der Merwe, who lives across the road from Pistorius, would not be able to hear from her bedroom on the side of her house farthest from the Olympian's the raised voice she spoke of in her testimony.

Van der Merwe described the "up and down" tones of an agitated woman's voice, which woke her just before 2 o'clock on Valentine's morning last year. Not being able to return to sleep, even with a pillow over her head, she testified to hearing four "thuds" or "bangs" some time later, followed by the sound of crying.

Van der Merwe says she believes the crying was female, but noted that her husband, who has previously chatted to Pistorius, believed it to be that of the Olympian's.

Admitting that she may have been in shock, and that she did not remember details because so much time had passed, she said during cross-examination she was unsure which direction the sounds emanated from.

Proceedings were halted briefly during the morning, after a local television station broadcast a photograph of Burger during her testimony, despite her request for privacy.

"If you do not behave, you are not going to be treated with soft gloves by this court," Judge Thokozile Masipa warned the media, ruling that no pictures of any witness who requests privacy may be published or broadcast, regardless of the source.

Steenkamp's mother June was absent from court on Tuesday, reportedly returning to the small port town of Port Elizabeth, after having seen for the first time the man who shot her daughter.

Roux will cross-examine Charl Johnson, Michelle Burger's husband, whose testimony has so far matched that of his wife, on Wednesday.

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