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Pistorius fired gun in eatery, friend testifies

  • Oscar Pistorius laughs during his court appearance on the third day of his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, on March 5, 2014.(AFP PHOTO/ POOL/ ALON SKUYI)

PRETORIA, South Africa: Oscar Pistorius fired a gun in a restaurant, grazing a friend’s foot, and then asked someone else to take the blame, the third day of the South African athlete’s murder trial heard Wednesday.

Professional boxer Kevin Lerena testified that Pistorius fired a bullet under a table at an upmarket Johannesburg restaurant in January 2013, the month before he shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day.

“A shot went off in the restaurant, then there was just complete silence,” Lerena, 21, the state’s fourth witness told the South African High Court in Pretoria.

“I looked down, and just where my foot was stationary, there was a hole in the floor,” said Lerena, testifying about one of three other gun-related charges against Pistorius.

“I had a little graze on my toe. I wasn’t hurt or injured,” he said, but added that “there was blood.”

The Paralympian apologized profusely, then asked another friend, the owner of the gun, to take the blame.

“Please, I don’t want any attention around me. Just say it was you,” he pleaded, according to Lerena.

Pistorius has denied intentionally killing Steenkamp and has pleaded not guilty to the other charges, including one of firing a gun through a moving car’s sunroof and to illegal possession of ammunition.

The state is expected to use these incidents to illustrate past reckless behavior in their argument to prove the runner planned to kill his girlfriend.

On the third day of trial, his defense also sought to prove that a married couple who heard screams on the night of Reeva Steenkamp’s death colluded in their testimony, hoping to discredit key witnesses.

Pistorius’ lawyer Barry Roux attempted to show written statements and testimony from Charl Johnson and Michelle Burger contained “remarkable coincidences” that could not be accidental.

Earlier, in vivid testimony that cast doubt on Pistorius’ claims of a “tragic accident,” the pair told the court they heard a screams then gunshots on Valentine’s Day 2013 at Pistorius’ home.

The couple’s account would undermine Pistorius’ claim that he shot the 29-year-old model and law graduate through a locked toilet door after mistaking her for an intruder.

As the trial resumed Wednesday, Roux sought to put the defense back on the front foot, submitting Johnson to pointed cross-examination a day after his wife was reduced to tears in the witness box.

“You have not favored the court with a strong, independent version,” he railed at Johnson, citing identical syntax and vocabulary used by the couple.

The allegation could lessen the impact of the pair’s testimony.

“Maybe you and your wife should have stood together in the witness box,” Roux said, prompting Judge Thokozile Masipa to step in.

“Aren’t you going a bit far?” Masipa asked.

Masipa did not comment on Johnson’s complaint that his “privacy has been compromised severely” by the reading in court of his cell phone number, and that he had received threatening messages.

Johnson earlier told the court that on Feb. 14, 2013 he was woken by a woman’s screams and ran to his balcony, less than 200 meters from Pistorius’ home.

“At that point the fear and intensity of her voice escalated and it was clear that this person’s life was in danger,” he said Tuesday.

“That’s when the first shots were fired,” although Johnson could not recall how many.

Another neighbor, second witness Estelle van der Merwe, who lives less than 100 meters away from Pistorius’ home, also told the court she heard arguing coming from the house.

Later she recalled waking up to the sound of loud bangs.

Pistorius, 27, a double amputee known as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fiber running blades, faces 25 years in South Africa’s notoriously brutal jails and an abrupt end to his glittering sporting career if convicted.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 06, 2014, on page 10.
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Summary

Oscar Pistorius fired a gun in a restaurant, grazing a friend's foot, and then asked someone else to take the blame, the third day of the South African athlete's murder trial heard Wednesday.

Pistorius' lawyer Barry Roux attempted to show written statements and testimony from Charl Johnson and Michelle Burger contained "remarkable coincidences" that could not be accidental.

Earlier, in vivid testimony that cast doubt on Pistorius' claims of a "tragic accident," the pair told the court they heard a screams then gunshots on Valentine's Day 2013 at Pistorius' home.

Johnson earlier told the court that on Feb. 14, 2013 he was woken by a woman's screams and ran to his balcony, less than 200 meters from Pistorius' home.

Another neighbor, second witness Estelle van der Merwe, who lives less than 100 meters away from Pistorius' home, also told the court she heard arguing coming from the house.


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