PRETORIA — Oscar Pistorius asked a friend to take the blame after a pistol was accidentally fired in a Johannesburg restaurant weeks before the double-amputee runner fatally shot his girlfriend, a witness testified Wednesday at Pistorius’s murder trial.
The testimony by boxer Kevin Lerena relates to firearms charges against Pistorius, and raises questions about the character of a man who insists he accidentally shot dead Reeva Steenkamp in his home in the early hours of Feb. 14 last year. Prosecutors allege he intentionally shot Steenkamp, his 29-year-old girlfriend.
Lerena said the restaurant shooting happened when he and Pistorius and two other friends were in a restaurant in the swank Melrose Arch area of Johannesburg in January 2013. One friend, Darren Fresco, passed his gun to Pistorius under the table and told him that there was a bullet in the chamber, Lerena said. Then a shot went off, puncturing the floor near Lerena’s foot, he said.
‘‘There was just complete silence,’’ said Lerena, who described being in shock and having blood where his toe was grazed in the incident. Then, he said, Pistorius apologized, saying: ‘‘Are you OK? Is everybody OK?’’
Before the restaurant management approached the table, Lerena said, Pistorius asked Fresco to say he was responsible for the gunshot.
‘‘Just say it was you. I don’t want any tension around me,’’ Lerena remembered Pistorius saying. ‘‘There’s too much media hype around me.’’
Lerena said they paid the bill and left and he never spoke about the incident. Two days after Pistorius shot Steenkamp, he said, he woke up to find over 100 missed calls on his telephone as media from around the world tried to ask about the gun incident.
Chief defense lawyer Barry Roux attempted to establish it was noisy in the restaurant, which the manager testified Wednesday was full.
But Lerena’s testimony that Pistorius asked a friend to ‘‘take the rap’’ wasn’t challenged.
‘‘[Pistorius] did say, ‘Fresco, take the blame because this could be big,’ ’’ Lerena said.
Pistorius, the world-famous athlete and first amputee to run at the Olympics, is charged with murder and three other offenses. He pleaded not guilty to all four charges.
Earlier Wednesday, Roux sought to undermine the prosecution testimony of a couple who say they heard a woman’s screams and gunfire the night that Pistorius killed Steenkamp. Telephone records will show that the banging sounds the neighbors heard were not gunshots but a distressed Pistorius breaking down the door with a cricket bat after realizing he had shot Steenkamp when she was in the toilet, thinking it was an intruder, Roux asserted.
Throwing doubt on the witnesses’s recollection is crucial for Pistorius’s defense after the state maintained there was a loud argument on the night he shot Steenkamp through a door in his bathroom and the screams and shouts were before a gun was fired.