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.
In a separate incident in January 2013, he said he was out to lunch at a restaurant with Pistorius, boxer Kevin Lerena and British athlete Martyn Rooney, when Pistorius asked him if he could handle Fresco’s Glock 27 pistol.
He said he handed it to Pistorius under the table and leaned close and said, “There’s one up,” a warning that there was a bullet in the chamber. Fresco said he leaned forward when he made the warning and that he was so close that Pistorius must have heard him.
“I thought he was competent. We had been to a shooting range before, and I knew he really loved weapons,” Fresco said.
He said he saw Pistorius move his arm and the weapon discharged, with a bullet hitting the floor and grazing Lerena’s toe.
He said Pistorius handed the gun back. “He said, Please, there’s too much media hype around me at the moment. Please can you take the rap?” Fresco told the court.
“Being a friend,” he agreed to take the blame “with pleasure,” Fresco said.
Earlier Tuesday, pathologist Gert Saayman testified that Steenkamp would have been in intense pain after being shot in the hip and arm, but that her senses would have been acute as she went into a shocked “fight-or-flight” response.
“I think it would be somewhat abnormal if one does not scream if one receives a wound of this nature,” he told the court.
But a shot to her head would have caused immediate loss of cognitive function, he said.
The pathologist said food remaining in Steenkamp’s stomach suggested that she probably ate around two hours before she was killed, meaning she ate after or at about 1 a.m.
Saayman’s testimony contradicted Pistorius’ contention that the couple ate dinner and were in bed by 10 p.m.
AFP Photo/Alexander Joe