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Monday, December 5, 2016

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius asked a friend to lie and take the blame after Pistorius accidentally fired a shot in a popular restaurant in an upscale Johannesburg neighborhood last year, the Gauteng North High Court in South Africa heard Wednesday.

Boxer Kevin Lerena was with Pistorius and other friends at Tasha’s restaurant in Melrose Arch in January 2013, weeks before Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his apartment in the early hours of Valentine’s Day that year.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge, claiming he shot her through a toilet door thinking she was an intruder. He also faces two charges of recklessly discharging a gun, including at Tasha’s, and has also pleaded not guilty.

The evidence led by the prosecution about the accidental gun shot at Tasha’s appears designed to show that not only was Pistorius reckless about firearms, but he was also willing to lie about it. He faces another charge related to allegedly firing a gun out of a car’s sunroof.

Lerena said a friend, Darren Fresco, handed a gun under the table to Pistorius in the restaurant where there were other patrons. Suddenly a shot went off. Lerena was in shock because he had never heard a gun fired in a confined space.

“And then there was just complete silence. I looked down at the floor. Exactly where my foot was, there was a hole in the floor,” Lerena told the court.

Lerena noticed he had a graze on his toe, and there was some blood but he was not seriously hurt. He wasn’t sure whether he was hit by shrapnel and went to the bathroom to get a tissue.

“I remember Oscar saying, ‘I’m so sorry, is everybody OK?,’” Lerena said.

But before the manager approached the table to find out what had happened, Pistorius begged a friend to take the blame, so as to avoid negative media attention.

“I remember Oscar saying to Darren, ‘Please say it was you. Please take the blame. There’s too much media hype.’”

According to Lerena, Fresco did take the blame. But after Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013, British media ran stories that Pistorius had shot him in the leg, so he came forward to correct the story.

Defense advocate Barry Roux cross examined a prosecution witness, Charl Johnson, who said he heard a woman screaming and several gunshots the night Steenkamp was killed.

Roux contended that Johnson actually heard Pistorius bashing down the toilet door with a cricket bat to get to Steenkamp, not gun shots. Johnson said he was certain he heard shots.

Roux seeking to discredit Johnson and his wife, Michelle Burger, who gave similar evidence earlier, argued that the couple had compared notes on their evidence to make sure they matched, rather than coming to court with their own independent versions.

Roux uncovered an inconsistency between their stories. Burger said she was awoken by the sound of a woman’s screaming, but Johnson said she woke up when he jumped out of bed, after hearing the screams.

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