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Oscar Pistorius trial: Witness tells of restaurant shooting cover-up

PRETORIA, South Africa -- 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, according to testimony in the South African Olympic athlete's murder trial Wednesday.

Boxer Kevin Lerena told the Gauteng North High Court that he 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 Steenkamp through a toilet door thinking she was an intruder. He also pleaded not guilty to two charges of recklessly discharging a gun, including at Tasha’s.

The evidence presented by the prosecution about the accidental gunshot at Tasha’s appears designed to show that not only was Pistorius reckless about firearms, but that he was willing to lie about it. The other firearms charge accuses him of firing a gun out of a car’s sunroof.

Lerena told the court that 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, he said, and he 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 said.

Lerena said noticed that his toe had been grazed in the incident, and there was some blood but he was not seriously hurt. He said wasn’t sure whether he had been 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.

Before the manager approached the table to find out what had happened, the boxer said, Pistorius begged Fresco 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,’” Lerena said

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

Also Wednesday, defense attorney 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 gunshots. 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 testimony 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 awakened by the sound of a woman screaming, but Johnson said she woke up when he jumped out of bed after hearing the screams.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesdixon

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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