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Originally published March 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM | Page modified March 6, 2014 at 3:30 AM

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Pistorius lawyer grills neighbor

Oscar Pistorius' lead defense lawyer grilled one of the neighbors of the star athlete Thursday, questioning the man over how many gunshots he thought he heard and at what on the night of Reeva Steenkamp's shooting death.


Associated Press

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PRETORIA, South Africa —

Oscar Pistorius' lead defense lawyer grilled one of the neighbors of the star athlete Thursday, questioning the man over how many gunshots he thought he heard and at what on the night of Reeva Steenkamp's shooting death.

Lawyer Barry Roux said Charl Johnson's testimony and statements to police were manipulated to match those of his wife, who testified on the opening day, and were an attempt to "incriminate the accused."

"I can confidently say I heard gunshots," Johnson insisted on cross-examination by Roux on the fourth day of Pistorius' murder trial. Later, Johnson said: "I'm convinced that I heard a lady's voice."

Roux argues that prosecution witnesses Johnson and his wife are mistaken over what they heard on the night Pistorius killed his girlfriend by firing four times through a toilet door.

Roux says the banging sounds were actually Pistorius hitting a toilet door with a bat and the screaming was the distressed athlete calling for help -- and there were no sounds from Steenkamp. Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by mistake.

Johnson said he "disputed" some of what Roux was saying and described in more detail what he heard on the night Pistorius shot his girlfriend to death. Johnson and his wife live 177 meters from the villa where Steenkamp died.

"The fear ... in the lady person's calls contrasted with a very monotone male voice," Johnson testified. "The man almost sounded embarrassed to be calling for help."

Roux did get Johnson to concede right at the end of the court session that he never heard what he thought was the woman's voice and the man's voice at the same time. Roux wants to show that it was the same person -- Pistorius -- screaming.

The sequence of events soon after 3 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 14 last year is a critical aspect of the case. Prosecutors say there was a loud argument between Pistorius and Steenkamp before the shooting. Pistorius says there was no argument and he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model, by accident thinking she was an intruder in his home.

Roux, who was at times interrupted by the judge to clarify some of his questions, also attempted to throw doubt on the validity of Johnson's testimony and that of his wife Burger. Roux said their versions were vague and different in statements to police and in notes they made in the weeks after the killing of Steenkamp. Then, the couple's stories and recollection of the events of that night became suspiciously similar later, Roux said.

"Your intention is a design to sideline and incriminate the accused," Roux said to Johnson. "It's a design on your side to incriminate, and it's unfortunate."

Johnson, who appeared stronger and surer Thursday than he was Wednesday, replied: "I have no reason to design an incriminating statement."

Pistorius, a double-amputee runner who competed at the 2012 Olympics, is charged with murder with premeditation after shooting Steenkamp. Dressed in a dark suit, Pistorius arrived earlier than usual for proceedings and sat alone and staring ahead before the judge arrived.

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Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP



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