Pistorius pleads not guilty at start of trial

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Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, 2nd right, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, as he arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. (AP Photo/Herman Verwey, Media24- Pool)

Oscar Pistorius is watched by June Steenkamp, 2nd right, the mother of Reeva Steenkamp, as he arrives for his trial at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. (AP Photo/Herman Verwey, Media24- Pool)

People stand around a newspaper poster reading ‘I want to look into Oscar’s eyes” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People stand around a newspaper poster reading “Oscar’s date with destiny” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People walk outside the court building where Oscar Pistorius will arrive later for his trial in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

People stand around a newspaper reading “Oscar’s date with destiny” before Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, March 3, 2014. Pistorius is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The first witness in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial testified Monday to hearing “blood-curdling” screams before the sound of four gunshots on the night the double-amputee Olympian killed his girlfriend.

Michell Burger, a woman who lives on an estate next to Pistorius’ gated community, said she and her husband were awoken by the screams in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14 last year, when Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp by shooting four times through a door in his bathroom.

Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp by mistake thinking she was a dangerous intruder in his house, but prosecutors believe the world-famous athlete shot his girlfriend after a fight and immediately tried to paint a picture at the trial of a loud argument before the fatal shots.

“It was very traumatic,” Burger said, speaking in Afrikaans through an interpreter and in answer to questions from lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel. “You could hear it was blood-curdling screams. You can’t translate it into words. The anxiousness in her voice, and fear. It leaves you cold.”

Burger said: “She screamed terribly and she yelled for help” and testified that after the gunshots a man shouted for help.

Pistorius earlier pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial to charges of murder and three other counts relating to shooting guns in public and illegal possession of ammunition. Wearing a dark gray suit and black tie, he spent the first 30 minutes of the first day of the trial at the high court in the South African capital standing before his defense lawyer, Barry Roux, asked the judge for permission for Pistorius to sit.

The Olympian’s murder trial was being broadcast live on TV in South Africa and across the world.

The first witness, Burger, was called before even an hour had passed as the prosecution went straight into testimony. The trial itself started 90 minutes late after an earlier delay because of an interpreter problem.

When he entered court, Pistorius walked past the victim’s mother who says she came to court so she can “really look him in the eyes.”

Defense lawyer Kenny Oldwadge laid out Pistorius’ legal strategy, reading a statement from Pistorius in which he says the killing was an accident and that there were inconsistencies in the state’s case, as well as an attempt to introduce inadmissible character evidence to discredit him.

In the statement, Pistorius said he brought two fans in from the balcony on the night of the killing, after speaking to his girlfriend who was in bed beside him. He said Steenkamp must have gone into the bathroom while he was fetching the fans. Pistorius said he did not notice that she had gone and heard the bathroom window open.

“I approached the bathroom, armed with my firearm, so as to defend Reeva and I,” Pistorius said in the statement. He said he then heard a noise in the toilet, and was in a “fearful state” because he was unable to run away or defend himself physically since he was not wearing his prosthetic legs.

“The state has embarked on a strategy to rely on unsubstantiated allegations,” he said, citing a neighbor’s testimony that an argument had been heard in his home.

According to Pistorius’ statement, other neighbors living nearby said they had not heard any argument. He also cited evidence provided by police detective Hilton Botha as “false in material respects.”

In the courtroom, Pistorius was seated near Steenkamp’s mother, June. She was quoted in the Pretoria News, which published an interview she gave to a British newspaper, saying that she wants to see Pistorius.

“I want to look at Oscar, really look him in the eyes, and see for myself the truth about what he did to Reeva,” said June Steenkamp, 67. “Whatever the court decides at the end of his trial, I will be ready to forgive him … But first I want to force him to look at me, Reeva’s mother, and see the pain and anguish he

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