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Saturday, December 3, 2016

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — In court testimony during the athlete’s murder trial Tuesday, a friend of South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius offered a portrait of a young man who “loved weapons” and shouted angrily at a policeman who picked up his gun and ejected a bullet from it.

The friend, Darren Fresco, recounted Pistorius’ angry reaction when questioned about his gun by police who had stopped Fresco for speeding. Pistorius and the athlete’s then-girlfriend were passengers.

“The accused said, ‘You can’t just touch another man’s gun,’ Fresco told Pretoria’s High Court, talking about the Sept. 30, 2012, incident in which the policeman picked up Pistorius’ pistol from the car seat.

Fresco also described an incident in which he said Pistorius begged him to lie and take the blame after the athlete discharged a gun in a restaurant.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to murder after shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year. He contends he mistook her for a burglar and shot her by mistake.

He also pleaded not guilty to two charges of recklessly firing a gun in a public place and another of keeping ammunition without a license. Prosecutors say Fresco was present both times recklessly discharged a gun, in the restaurant, and out of the car’s sunroof after the incident with the police officer.

Fresco and Pistorius were once close friends.

According to Fresco’s testimony, he was driving and Pistorius was in the passenger seat with the athlete’s then-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, in the back seat when police stopped the car for speeding.

Pistorius was “furious” that the officer touched the athlete’s gun, Fresco said. At one point, looking at Pistorius’ gun license, the officer mistook the athlete’s name for “Pretorius” and Pistorius told the police officer, “You can’t read,” Fresco told the court.

After they continued driving, he said, Pistorius suddenly fired the gun through the sunroof. Fresco said he instinctively ducked away and Pistorius laughed. Fresco said he asked Pistorius if he was mad.

“I had this constant ringing in my left ear. It literally felt as if my ear was bleeding,” he testified.

Fresco was given immunity from weapons charges in exchange for his testimony.