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Oscar Pistorius trial, 6 degrees of premeditation from screams to murder

Blood curdling screams that sounded like "family murder" according to one eyewitness are at the center of the Oscar Pistorius trial. For months the defense has worked very hard to establish as many holes as possible in the testimony that carried those two little words that nobody watching this trial can forget. Those words: "family murder". They have done so because this is among the most damaging evidence to date presented in this trial. Who screamed in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2013 in South Africa? The defense wants Judge Masipa to believe it was Oscar Pistorius, and have presented as much evidence as possible to show that. On July 1 the CBC reported that the latest evidence submitted in the North Guateng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa in the Oscar Pistorius trial is evidence from expert witness for the defense. CBC reports that sound expert named Ivan Lin has claimed that there was no way it was Reeva Steenkamp that screamed that night.

Oscar Pistorius trial, it only takes a moment to establish "premeditation". Oscar in deep thought before he heads into court.
Photo by Charlie Shoemaker/Getty Images

This is not the first witness the defense has presented to poke holes in the "family murder" screams. Which side has been more successful? To date, the court of public opinion believes that the State has presented more compelling evidence illustrating the 6 degrees of premeditation between screams and murder in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day 2013.

What is that evidence and has the defense been successful in poking holes in that testimony?

On July 1, the CBC reported testimony from Ivan Lin. Lin is the expert called by the defense working to establish the decibel level of screams, and who could or could not have been the individual screaming. The prosecution asserts that the couple had a fight that night, a claim corroborated by much of the eyewitness testimony for the State. The screaming evidence bolsters their claim significantly illustrating the first of many degrees of potential premeditated murder in the killing of Reeva Steenkamp.

The CBC reports that defense expert Ivan Lin has "conducted tests that showed ambient noise and other factors can make it difficult to hear accurately from a distance." What the defense is trying to do here is show reasonable doubt. It's "possible" that the neighbors did not hear accurately. Fair enough.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel disputed this vigorously. He stated that the screams had the "tonal character" of a woman, referring once again to the damaging testimony presented by the neighbors who heard screams that night. Lin's only response was to suggest that it was impossible for him to say whether the neighbors were right or not.

Did this witness then not just contradict himself? First he claims it could not have been Reeva screaming due to the tonal decibel evidence he presented. Then, after cross-examination, he was forced to testify that it was "impossible" for him to say with certainty that the neighbors were accurate, or were not.

Other evidence presented in the Oscar Pistorius trial on July 1 have attempted to show other factors that negate the possibility of premeditated murder. CNN reports that Oscar's agent, Peet van Zyl took the stand today to say that, Oscar loved Reeva, hoping this testimony would cast the shadow of reasonable doubt. If Oscar loved her, how could he have premeditated a murder?

According to CNN, Peet van Zyle testified that the couple were involved in a "loving and caring relationship". Peet testified that the couple had plans, as most do, even before a tragic breakup or ending. Pistorius was hoping to take Reeva on business trips, to a concert with Andrea Bocelli. How could he have premeditated this killing?

All Peet van Zyle has established with this testimony is that Oscar did not spend months planning the killing. The State is going to show that it does not take months to establish premeditated murder. It only takes thoughts that occur before the trigger is pulled once.

Peet van Zyle has also attempted to establish that Pistorius was "fidgety" and "hypervigilant". He worked hard to establish holes in previous testimony that showed Oscar to have a terrible temper. One way he tried to do so according to CNN was by saying that he thought himself to even have a worse temper than the hypervigilant Oscar Pistorius, stating that he had lost his own temper more times than Oscar in the years that he knew him.

All this tells us is that Oscar's agent has a worse temper than Pistorius, not that Pistorius is innocent of premeditated murder. Oscar Pistorius is not on trial for whether or not he loved Reeva Steenkamp. He is on trial for killing her, and he would not be the first defendant to kill someone that he loved. This testimony does not do much in closing the gap in the many degrees between screams and murder in the Oscar Pistorius trial.

Jodi Arias also testified on the stand in her first degree murder trial that she still "kind of" loved Travis Alexander, and in her diary after the killing wrote that she loved him. This begs the question, what's love got to do with it?

Among the most damaging evidence regarding the screams is the testimony that suggests screams came before gunshots. This is the third of many degrees of premeditation in the Oscar Pistorius trial.

What came first, the gunshot or the screams?

The very first witness to take the stand, according to the L.A. Times was Michelle Burger, who testified that she woke in the timeframe of 3am to the sound of "bloodcurdling screams".

"She screamed terribly and she yelled for help. It was something you can't explain to someone else, how anxious those screams were. Just after her screams, I heard shots, four shots. Bang…bang, bang, bang. I heard petrified screaming before the gunshots, and just after the gunshots."

The defense did their job, as best as they could, to establish reasonable doubt here, indicating that Michelle's testimony contradicted her own husband's. Michelle's husband claimed to have heard about 5 or 6 gunshots that evening. Many have speculated that the banging heard by Mr. Burger after the fourth gunshot was the banging of Pistorius, beating down the bathroom door with his cricket bat. The defense is banking on these inconsistencies to cast reasonable doubt.

A lot of people think that just because Barry Roux has illustrated inconsistencies between Ms. Burger's report and her husband's, that she must be wrong.

But if any one of those two parties, either Mr. or Mrs. Burger is incorrect, it would clearly be the husband. We know how many shots were fired with 100% accuracy. Ms. Burger's account confirms that accuracy, Mr. Burger's does not. If any inconsistencies exist, they would lie ore with Mr. Burger's testimony than with Michelles.

Mark O'Mara, lead defense member for George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin has stated that this is a weak defense. He told 48 hrs that if Judge Masipa believes the screams came before the gunshots, it's murder. Many watching this trial agree.

The fourth degree of premeditation between screams and murder came in one of the most laughable, literally, defenses of all. Enter the "Oscar screams like a woman" defense, testified on March 7 according to ABC News. The defense is working very hard to establish that Oscar screams like a woman, and that is who neighbors heard in the early hours of Valentine's Day 2013.

Does this defense not seem like a reach?

To be fair, the defense has to come up with something. And when a defense team is trying to discredit testimony, they point the finger elsewhere. Because we don't have Reeva saying, "that was definitely me screaming", the defense points to the only person left in the building, allegedly.

Enter the Oscar screams like a woman defense. So ludicrous that even the courtroom laughed when this defense was offered.

The fifth degree of premeditation is shown back in the Burgess testimony once again, when Michelle Burgess testified that the screaming stopped after the gunshots did. In addition to describing what she heard as "family murder", Michelle further testified, as did many others, that the screaming stopped after the gunshots.

She was not the only one to testify to this fact.

So, the screaming could not have been Oscar screaming like a woman. Oscar's anxiety state would be increased after the killing, and not before. Thus, if the screaming was Oscar, witnesses would have testified to more and louder screaming happening after the fact. This testimony did not come up. Instead, another neighbor Stipp testified, "After the second group of shots the screaming stopped."

While there are many possible reasons for this, the most logical reason is the screaming stopped because the person who was screaming was dead.

The last story that is the weakest defense by the Oscar Pistorius team used to negate the screams was reported by the Daily Mail on March 4. "Reeva was so badly brain damaged she could not have screamed." This is just one of the many holes the defense has used in the screaming theories to establish reasonable doubt.

This is possible. This is possible if she only suffered one shot, but we know she did not. It is not only possible but probable that Reeva began screaming as soon as the first shot rang out, and possibly even before the gunshots started if the State is correct that the couple had a fight before the killing.

One thing is certain and accurate in this theory. It is impossible for Reeva to have screamed after this shot to the head, and that is because she was dead. It is also possible, probable, and likely, that she was screaming before that fatal shot, as any woman would be when she was locked in a bathroom and had gunfire coming at her.

One thing can not be disputed, the screaming evidence is among the most damaging evidence to date in the Oscar Pistorius trial where Oscar Pistorius is accused of premeditated murder. The defense is doing their job trying to poke as many holes in that evidence as possible.

Possibly, probably, Reeva's own mother June Steenkamp wants to believe the defense's position as well. No mother wants to know that their only child's last moments were filled with blood curdling screams. Those are thoughts June Steenkamp will take to her grave, and to bed with her every night when she mourns the beautiful 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp.

But what June Steenkamp, or the defense, or the State even believes is not the center of this case.

What does Judge Masipa believe? Time will tell.

What do you believe?

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