Oscar Pistorius trial: Athlete asked friend to 'take the blame' after firing gun in restaurant

Athlete allegedly asked friend to 'take the blame' in wake of gun accident at a restaurant

Pretoria

Oscar Pistorius asked a friend to take the blame for him after he accidentally fired a gun at the floor of a restaurant, his murder trial heard today.

Kevin Lerena told the North Gauteng High Court how he had joined Pistorius at a Johannesburg restaurant, along with British Olympic sprinter Martyn Rooney, and another friend Darren Fresco, an associate of the Daytona Group.

Mr Lerena told the court that Fresco's gun fired into the floor as it was passed under the table to Pistorius, having told the sprinter he was "one up" - that there was a bullet loaded into the chamber.

"Then a shot went off in the restaurant and there was complete silence," Mr Lerena said. "I looked down, I was in shock. Exactly where my foot was, there was a hole in the floor.

"I wasn’t injured, but there was blood on my toe. I've never been in a confined area where gunshot has gone off. There could have been a fatality.

"Oscar said to Darren, 'Just say it was you. I don’t want any tension around me. Just say it was you. Please take the blame for me. There's too much media hype around me.' And Darren took the blame for him."

"You can't quote me on those exact words," Mr Lerena said. "But that was the [nature of the] matter."

Mr Lerena said the restaurant owners came over, Mr Darren took the blame, they then paid the bill and left. "I was in complete shock. I never spoke about it again."

The incident forms of the basis of one of three separate firearms charges which Pistorius is facing in his trial, in addition to the main charge of murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He has pleaded not guilty to all four charges.

Mr Lerena, a professional boxer, was in intense training for a boxing match when Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine's Day last year, but said: "When I woke up, on the 16th February after my fight I had over a hundred missed calls on my cellphone from media outlets all around the world. There was a story that Oscar had shot me in the leg. I said I wasn't shot.

"A newspapers in the UK had a headline: 'Oscar shoots his pal. I said that's nonsense. I was not shot."

Mr Lerena said he met Pistorius at a track day with the luxury lifestyle group 'The Daytona Group', to which Mr Fresco is closed linked.

"We socialised afterwards. He's an icon and a legend in sport," he said. "To get help from a guy like him was very important. He was going to help me with diet, and a little bit of running."

Earlier, Pistorius's defence counsel, Barrie Roux claimed that mobile phone data shows that the gunshots heard by Pistorius’s neighbour on the night he shot his girlfriend were in fact the sound of the athlete breaking down the bathroom door with a cricket bat, the North Gauteng High Court has heard.

In the witness box for a second day, Pistorius's neighbour Charl Johnson confirmed he had called police at 03.16 in the morning, for 58 seconds, immediately after hearing gunshots.

Pistorius is recorded as having called his estate manager Johan Stander at 03.19, by which point he had broken down the bathroom door, behind which Reeva's body lay - a matter that is not in dispute.

"We can work out the time to the minute when the door was broken down, and that is the time that you were standing on the balcony [and heard the gunshots]," Pistorius's defence counsel Charles Roux.

In testimony that matched that given by his wife yesterday and the day before, Mr Johnson replied he was "certain I heard gun shots."

"I am familiar with the sound of gun shots," he added.

Both Mr Johnson and his wife Dr Michelle Burger claim to have heard the sound of a "man screaming for help", before the sound of gunshots, followed by a woman screaming for help, a version of events that seemingly fits neither with the suggestion that Pistorius intentionally murdered Ms Steenkamp, nor that he mistook her for an intruder.

"One thing that doesn't fit in with your version, is a man screaming for help. That is strange to say the least. You know now that the man shot his girlfriend. Him screaming, for help. It doesn't fit," Mr Roux told him.

Mr Roux sought to discredit Mr Johnson and his wife's testimony, which he said were strikingly similar, from both using the same terminology to describe they went to bed - "between nine and ten", to their descriptions of a woman’s screams "fading".

"It may just be coincidence, Mr Johnson, but that is six coincidences in a row," Mr Roux said.

"I understand that you believe it was a woman screaming. I understand that you believe you heard gun shots. But when you get confirmation that a woman was shot by Pistorius, it cements your belief that it becomes concrete in your mind. Now you genuinely believe it."

Mr Johnson could only repeat his assertion that he was "absolutely convinced that I heard a lady and a man screaming."

If Pistorius is found guilty of intentionally killing Ms Steenkamp he will face a minimum 25 years in jail. If he is found guilty of a lesser charge of culpable homicide - that he did honestly believe an intruder was behind the door - his sentence could be non-custodial, or it could be up to 15 years in jail.

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