Pistorius trial told of gun episode
Published 05/03/2014 | 08:22
Oscar Pistorius asked a friend to take the blame after a pistol was accidentally fired in a Johannesburg restaurant weeks before the double-amputee runner fatally shot his girlfriend, a witness told the Pistorius' murder trial.
The evidence of boxer Kevin Lerena relates to firearms charges against Pistorius, and raises questions about the character of a man who insists he accidentally shot dead Reeva Steenkamp in his home in the early hours of February 14 last year. Prosecutors allege he intentionally shot Ms Steenkamp, his 29-year-old girlfriend.
Mr Lerena said the restaurant shooting happened when he and Pistorius and two other friends were in a restaurant in the swank Melrose Arch area of Johannesburg in January 2013.
One friend, Darren Fresco, passed his gun to Pistorius under the table and told him that there was a bullet in the chamber, Mr Lerena said. Then a shot went off, puncturing the floor near Mr Lerena's foot, he said.
"There was just complete silence," said Mr Lerena, who described being in shock and having blood where his toe was grazed in the incident. Then, he said, Pistorius apologised, saying: "Are you okay? Is everybody okay?"
Before the restaurant management approached the table, Mr Lerena said, Pistorius asked Fresco to say he was responsible for the gunshot.
Mr Lerena told the high court in Pretoria that he remembered Pistorius saying: "Just say it was you. I don't want any tension around me. There's too much media hype around me."
Mr Lerena said they paid the bill and left the restaurant and he never spoke about the incident.
Two days after Pistorius shot Ms Steenkamp, he said, he woke up to find more than 100 missed calls on his telephone as media from around the world tried to contact him to ask about the gun incident.
The manager of the restaurant told the court that it was full with more than 200 customers on the night in question.
Chief defence lawyer Barry Roux attempted to establish it was noisy in the eatery and that Pistorius did not hear Mr Fresco say the gun was "one-up" - or that there was a bullet in the chamber - when he passed it.
But Mr Lerena's evidence that Pistorius asked a friend to "take the rap" was not challenged.
"He (Pistorius) did say, 'Fresco, take the blame because this could be big.'" Mr Lerena told the court.
The wife of the restaurant manager also said in the brief evidence that the shot went off near to where a child was sitting.
Pistorius, the world-famous athlete and first amputee to run at the Olympics, is charged with murder and three other offences - two relating to the shooting of a gun in public and another count of illegal possession of ammunition. He has pleaded not guilty to all four charges.
Earlier in the day, Mr Roux sought to undermine the prosecution testimony of a couple who said they heard a woman's screams and gunfire the night that Pistorius killed Steenkamp.
The defence lawyer asserted that telephone records will show that the banging sounds the neighbours heard were not gunshots, but a distressed Pistorius breaking down the toilet door with a cricket bat after realising he had shot Ms Steenkamp when she was in the toilet, thinking it was an intruder.
Throwing doubt on the witnesses' recollection of the sequence in the early hours is crucial for Pistorius' defence after the state maintained there was a loud argument on the night he shot Ms Steenkamp through a door in his bathroom and the screams and shouts were before a gun was fired.
Pistorius' team wants to show the screams were Pistorius calling for help after the accidental killing and before he used the bat on the door.
Charl Johnson and his wife Michelle Burger have told the court that they heard a woman screaming, a man shouting for help and then gunshots. During his cross-examination of Mr Johnson, Mr Roux said call records will show Pistorius called an estate manager at around 3.19am and soon after he bashed in the door with the bat.
In Mr Johnson and Mr Burger's testimony, they say they heard what they described as shots straight after making a call to security at 3.16am. The similar times show the sounds were the bat on the door, Mr Roux argued.
"There is only one thing you could have heard, because it coincides precisely," Mr Roux said to Mr Johnson. "That was the time that he (Pistorius) broke down the door (with the bat)."
Mr Johnson replied: "I am convinced the sound I heard was gunshots."
Pistorius, 27, was a globally admired athlete whose career peaked when he ran in the 2012 Olympics. He was born without fibula bones because of a congenital defect and his legs were amputated when he was 11 months old.
He ran on carbon-fibre blades and is a multiple Paralympic medalist. He also competed at the London Olympics but did not win a medal.