PRETORIA: Oscar Pistorius fired a gun in a restaurant, grazing a friend’s foot, and then asked someone else to take the blame, the court heard on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) on the third day of the paralympian star’s murder trial.
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 apologised profusely, then asked another friend, the gun’s owner, to take the blame, pleading “just say it was you,” according to Lerena.
Pistorius, 27, 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 behaviour in their bid to prove the sprinter planned to kill his girlfriend.
On the third day of trial, his defence also sought to prove that a married couple who heard screams on the night of Steenkamp’s death colluded in their testimony, hoping to discredit the key witnesses.
Pistorius’s lawyer Barry Roux attempted to show that written statements and testimony from Charl Johnson and Michelle Burger contained “remarkable coincidences” that could not be accidental.
Screams, then gunshots
Earlier, in vivid testimony that cast doubt on Pistorius’ claims of a “tragic accident,” the pair told the court they heard screams then gunshots.
The couple’s account would undermine Pistorius’s 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 on 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 favoured 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 question if the defence was going too far.
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.
He earlier told the court that he was woken by a woman’s screams on the night of Steenkamp’s death and ran to his balcony, less than 200 metres (yards) from Pistorius’s 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 on Tuesday.
The first shots were then fired, he said.
On Tuesday, a tearful Burger said she still relived the “terrifying screams”.
Another neighbor, Estelle van der Merwe, who lives less than 100 metres away from Pistorius’s home, also told the court she heard arguing and later woke up to the sound of loud bangs.
Pistorius, a double amputee known as the “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre running blades, faces 25 years in South Africa’s brutal jails and an abrupt end to his glittering sporting career if convicted.
His plunge from inspirational hero to murder suspect has drawn a global spotlight, with British advertising regulators on Wednesday ordering Irish bookmaker Paddy Power to withdraw a campaign offering “money back if he walks”.
The regulator received more than 5,200 complaints — an “unprecedented number” — while more than 100,000 people also signed a petition urging the ad be pulled.