Africa

Pistorius trial: Athlete blamed for restaurant shooting

  • 5 March 2014
  • From the section Africa

A witness at the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has said the South African athlete was responsible for a weapon being fired at a restaurant last year.

Boxer Kevin Lerena told the court that Mr Pistorius had asked the owner of the gun to take the blame.

The incident happened the month before Mr Pistorius shot dead his 29-year-old girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The 27-year-old double amputee denies intentionally killing her, saying he mistook her for an intruder.

He also denies charges of illegally possessing ammunition.

Ms Steenkamp, a model and reality TV star, was shot dead in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year at Mr Pistorius's home in the capital, Pretoria.

The arrest of a national sporting hero, who won gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and also competed at the Olympics, astounded South Africa.

'In shock'

Mr Lerena, a professional boxer, is the fourth witness to take the stand at the trial, which began at the High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

He testified that he had been to Tasha's Restaurant in Johannesburg with Mr Pistorius and two other people, including Darren Fresco, in January 2013.

Mr Fresco had passed his firearm to Mr Pistorius and said "I'm one up", meaning there was a bullet in the chamber of the gun, Mr Lerena said.

When the firearm was handed over, there was a shot followed by "complete silence", the boxer added.

"I looked down, and where my foot was there was a hole in the floor," he told the court. "I had a little graze on my toe, but I wasn't hurt."

Mr Pistorius had apologised and asked Mr Fresco to take the blame, which he had agreed to do, Mr Lerena said.

"Please, I don't want any attention around me. Just say it was you," he pleaded, according to Mr Lerena.

There is intense interest in the case in South Africa
South Africa was stunned when the athlete shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp

During his cross-examination of Mr Lerena, defence lawyer Barry Roux said Mr Pistorius had told him that he did not hear the warning about the loaded bullet as the gun was passed under the table and was checking the chamber when it was accidently fired.

Restaurant owner Jason Loupis then took the stand and told the court that 220 diners had been present at the time of the incident, and confirmed that Mr Fresco had taken the blame for the gunshot.

His wife, Maria, also testified, saying a child had been sitting at the table next to the group.

The BBC's Andrew Harding, who is in the courtroom, says the questioning showed the prosecution's broader attempt to prove that Mr Pistorius was trigger-happy.

Prosecutors say Mr Pistorius planned the killing and shot Ms Steenkamp after a row.

Mr Pistorius has said he believed his girlfriend was in bed when he fired at the toilet door in the early hours of 14 February 2013.

Earlier witnesses at the trial were neighbours of the athlete who testified about the sounds they heard around the time of Ms Steenkamp's death.

On Wednesday morning, Mr Roux sought to undermine the testimony of a couple who said they had heard a woman's screams followed by gunfire.

He said telephone records would show that the banging sounds had not been gunshots but Mr Pistorius in distress, breaking down the toilet door with a cricket bat after realising that Ms Steenkamp was inside.

If found guilty of premeditated murder, Mr Pistorius could face life imprisonment.

There are no juries at trials in South Africa, and his fate will ultimately be decided by Judge Thokozile Masipa.

Much of the case will depend on ballistic evidence from the scene of the shooting, correspondents say.

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