Oscar Pistorius shot gun out of car without warning, judge hears

Posted at 6:10 AM, Mar 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-11 11:32:35-04

By Richard Allen Greene and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — A furious Oscar Pistorius fired a gun from a car sunroof after a police officer handled his weapon during a traffic stop, his friend testified Tuesday during the Olympian’s murder trial.

Darren Fresco was driving the car in late 2012 when police pulled him over for speeding.

“(The) officer had picked up the accused’s weapon, to which the accused said ‘You can’t just touch another man’s gun,'” Fresco said.

“He was furious about it, that someone else had touched his gun,” Fresco said. Pistorius later that day fired through the sunroof “out of the blue … no warning,” he said.

Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. He also faces three firearms charges, including the sunroof shooting and an incident at Tashas restaurant in Johannesburg.

The prosecution has tried to use the gunshot incidents to portray Pistorius as trigger-happy.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to all four charges. He says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her through a locked bathroom door.

On Friday, Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor testified about the sunroof shooting incident, saying the two men laughed and joked about shooting a “robot,” a traffic light, before the gunfire. Fresco denied those claims.

Restaurant gunshot

Fresco also testified about the incident at Tashas, where Pistorius is accused of asking him to take the blame after he accidentally discharged a pistol under the table one month before Steenkamp’s death.

Fresco told defense lawyer Barry Roux that his written witness statement was prepared with a lawyer’s help “to make sure I wasn’t going to put myself into any kind of trouble,” but he insisted it was the truth.

Judge Thokozile Masipa told Fresco he would be immune from prosecution for self-incriminating testimony if he tells the truth.

Pathologist back on stand

Earlier, Pistorius’ defense team questioned pathologist Gert Saayman’s finding that Steenkamp had eaten less than two hours before she died, which contradicts the athlete’s account that they had been in bed for several hours before the shooting.

The testimony is key because Pistorius said he and Steenkamp ate several hours earlier, which means her stomach likely would have been empty at the time of the shooting.

Saayman, however, held tight to his estimate.

Saayman also told the court on Monday that Steenkamp had been shot three times, in the head, hip and arm. If she had been shot in the hip or arm first, she would have been able to scream, he said.

“I think it would be somewhat abnormal if one did not scream” when receiving a wound like Steenkamp’s arm wound, Saayman told the prosecution.

Neighbors said they heard a woman screaming before the shots were fired, but defense lawyers argue that Pistorius was the only one who screamed.

Pistorius retched into a bucket throughout Saayman’s two hours of testimony about Steenkamp’s wounds on Monday, clutching his head in his hands and covering his ears between rounds of weeping, vomiting and dry heaving. He appeared mostly calm on Tuesday.

Masipa banned the live transmission of the pathologist’s testimony, ruling it too grisly. She lifted a ban on live tweeting and blogging on Tuesday.

Gun at his bedside

Pistorius, 27, does not deny firing the bullets that killed Steenkamp, 29, but he pleaded not guilty when his trial opened March 3, saying it was a terrible mistake, not the deliberate murder of his girlfriend of nearly four months.

The case against Pistorius is largely circumstantial, prosecutor Gerrie Nel conceded in his opening statement last week. Pistorius and Steenkamp were the only people in his house the night he killed her.

Nel has been building a picture of what happened through the testimony of neighbors who heard screaming and bangs that night, current and former friends of the South African track star, and a security guard who sped to the scene because of reports of gunshots.

Defense lawyer Roux has gone after holes, doubts, discrepancies and inconsistencies in prosecution witness stories. He is trying to sow reasonable doubt that their memories of events are correct.

Many prosecution witnesses’ stories are consistent with Pistorius’ version of events, that he got up in the night, went out to his balcony to get a fan, came back inside and heard noises in the bathroom that he thought to be an intruder.

He said he took the gun and fired while calling for Steenkamp to call the police. Only when she didn’t answer did he realize it could have been her in the bathroom, he said.

Taylor, his former girlfriend, testified Friday that he reacted similarly once when she was sleeping at his house.

She said Pistorius, the first double-amputee to run in the Olympic Games, once heard something hit a bathroom window and woke her up to ask if she’d heard it, too, before taking his gun and going to investigate. Taylor said Pistorius woke her up other times when he thought he’d heard a noise.

Taylor also testified that Pistorius slept with a pistol on his bedside table or on the floor beside his prosthetic legs, and he once became so angry after a traffic stop that he shot a gun through the sunroof of a car.

Prosecutors appear to have been trying to demonstrate that Pistorius and Steenkamp had a loud argument before the shooting, suggesting it’s the reason he killed her.

But the defense is proposing that what neighbors thought was Steenkamp screaming in fear for her life was in fact Pistorius when he realized what he had done.

Pistorius and at least two neighbors made phone calls to security after the shooting, allowing the defense to use phone records to establish a timeline of events.

Masipa will decide Pistorius’ verdict. South Africa does not have jury trials.

In South Africa, premeditated murder carries a mandatory life sentence with a minimum of 25 years. Pistorius also could get five years for each gun indictment and 15 years for the firearms charge.

If he isn’t convicted of premeditated murder, the sprinter could face a lesser charge of culpable homicide, a crime based on negligence, and could be looking at up to 15 years on that charge, experts said. The trial is expected to take at least three weeks.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene reported from Pretoria, Marie-Louise Gumuchian wrote from London. CNN’s Ed Payne and Emily Smith also contributed to this report.

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