PRETORIA, South Africa March 5, 2014— -- Professional boxer Kenin Lerena was a surprise witness at Oscar Pistorius' murder trial today, where he testified that the athlete accidentally fired a gun in a crowded restaurant last year and then asked a friend to take the blame.
The incident happened on Jan. 11, 2013, one month before Pistorius said he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius, the paralympic Blade Runner, is charged with murder for firing four shots through a locked bathroom door, killing Steenkamp. Pistorius, 27, could face at least 25 years in prison if convicted. Pistorius claims he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder during the night.
Lerena, who was a friend of the couple, told the court that the incident happened at the upscale Tasha's restaurant, located in northern Johannesburg. Pistorius and Lerena were joined by two friends, Darren Fresco and Martin Rooney, he said.
Lerena testified that Fresco handed Pistorius a firearm under the table with the words "There's one up," which Lerena understood to mean there was a round in the chamber.
Moments later, Lerena said a shot went off in the restaurant and the entire dining room went silent. Lerena described his shocked state of mind as he went to the bathroom to wipe some blood off his toe after it was grazed by the bullet.
"I had never been in a situation where a gun goes off like that," he said.
Lerena said Pistorius apologized profusely, said it was an accident, and asked several times if everyone was OK.
He said Pistorius, one of South Africa's most famous figures, also begged Fresco to say it was him who fired the shot because he didn't want any negative publicity.
"Please Darren, just say it was you. I don't want any tension around me," Pistorius said, according to Lerena.
When the managers of the restaurant came to their table to ask what happened, Lerena said Fresco took the blame for his friend. He said the group then paid their bill and left.
Lerena said he didn't speak to anyone about the incident until he received several calls from foreign journalists asking about it two days after Steenkamp was killed.
Jason and Maria Loupis, the owners of Tasha's, also testified today about the shooting inside their restaurant.
Jason Loupis told the court he heard a loud bang and went to the group's table to ask what happened. He said Fresco told him, "Sorry Jason, my gun fell out of my pants."
Maria Loupis said she went over to the table where the four men were sitting and asked Fresco what's the first rule of gun ownership.
"I said 'Safety First!' before hitting him against the head" she told the court.
Defense Tries to Poke Holes in Neighbor's Testimony
The cross examination of prosecution witness Charl Johnson, a neighbor who said he heard screams just before Steenkamp was shot to death on Valentine's Day morning last year, was put on hold today amid questions about notes the witness had taken after the killing.
Defense attorney Barry Roux asked to see Johnson's computer after Johnson claimed during testimony that he had taken notes on it about what he heard.
Johnson's wife, Michelle Burger, provided a powerful testimony during the first two days of the trial in which she said she heard a woman's screams and a pause after the first gunshot, followed by three more pops.
The defense has tried to poke holes in Burger's story and by pausing her husband's testimony today, may try to prove that they colluded to line up their stories.
Johnson is expected to resume his testimony on Thursday.