Oscar Pistorius asked a friend to take the blame after a pistol was accidentally fired in a restaurant weeks before the double-amputee runner shot dead his girlfriend, a court heard yesterday.
The evidence of boxer Kevin Lerena related to firearms charges against the athlete, and raised questions about the character of Pistorius, who insists he accidentally shot dead Reeva Steenkamp at his home in the early hours of 14 February last year.
Prosecutors allege that he intentionally shot his 29-year-old girlfriend.
Mr Lerena said the restaurant shot happened when he, Pistorius and two other friends were in Johannesburg in January last year.
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, hitting the floor near Mr Lerena’s foot.
“There was just complete silence,” said Mr Lerena, who described being in shock and having blood where his toe was grazed. Then, he said, Pistorius apologised, saying: “Are you OK? Is everybody OK?”
Before the restaurant management approached the table, Mr Lerena said, Pistorius asked Mr Fresco to say he was responsible.
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.
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 restaurant and that Pistorius did not hear Mr Fresco say that there was a bullet in the chamber when he passed the gun across.
But Mr Lerena’s evidence that Pistorius asked a friend to “take the rap” was not challenged.
“He did say, ‘Fresco, take the blame because this could be big’,” Mr Lerena told the court.
The restaurant manager’s wife also said the shot went off near where a child was sitting.
Pistorius, the first amputee to race at the Olympics, is charged with murder and three other offences – two relating to the firing of a gun in public and another of illegal possession of ammunition. He has pleaded not guilty to all four charges.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Roux sought to undermine prosecution testimony of a couple who said they heard a woman’s screams and gunfire the night Pistorius killed Miss Steenkamp.
The defence lawyer said that telephone records will show the banging sounds heard by neighbours 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 bathroom, thinking it was an intruder.
Prosecutors maintain there was a loud argument on the night he shot Ms Steenkamp through a door and the screams and shouts occurred before a gun was fired.
Pistorius’s defence team wants to show the screams were the athlete 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 records will show Pistorius called an estate manager at 3:19am and soon after he broke down the door with the bat.
In Mr Johnson and Mrs Burger’s testimony, they say they heard what they described as shots after making a call to security at 3:16am.
The similar times show the sounds were the bat on the door, Mr Roux argued.
The trial continues.