The Malta Independent 16 October 2018, Tuesday

Daphne's murder: defence claims discrimination over prison conditions

Helena Grech Wednesday, 7 February 2018, 10:15 Last update: about 9 months ago

Defence lawyers for three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia argued that their clients are being discriminated against over the conditions under which their families are allowed to visit.

The defence made the argument during the compilation of evidence that continued to be heard before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit today.

Caruana Galizia was brutally murdered in a car bomb on 16 October 2017 just metres away from her Bidnija residence. Following police investigations, assisted by the FBI and Dutch forensic experts, George Degiorgio, his brother Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat were arrested and charged with carrying out the heinous act.

The three men have complained, through defence attorneys Martin Fenech, William Cuschieri and Josette Scicluna, that they are being discriminated against. Instead of family visiting the accused in the same hall where all other prisoners receive visitors, they must have the visits in a "small room" with three officers present hearing every word.

Presiding magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit heard several more witnesses during yesterday's hearing, with the most notable being a couple who rented out their St Paul's Bay apartment to Alfred Degiorgio and another woman who was questioned about a SIM card she used in 2015.

The couple separately testified to how Alfred Degiorgio had been renting the apartment in St Paul's Bay from August 2017. They said that Degiorgio would pay €800 in cash each month for the rent. The significance behind the prosecution calling the couple to the stand is to corroborate the location data they obtained from mobile phone reception towers, in all likelihood to confirm that a particular phone they believe to be linked with Degiorgio is really the case.

In addition, a woman took the witness stand and was questioned about a particular SIM card she used between 2014 and 2015. She confirmed that after 2015 she changed SIM card and number, for "personal reasons." She also confirmed that the SIM card had now been passed on to the police for investigation. The significance of this particular SIM card is not yet known.

Multiple police officers also took the witness stand to describe where they were stationed and what they saw when called to the scene of the crime on the day of the murder.

 

Prosecuting inspector Kurt Zahra was present, alongside deputy AG Philip Galea Farrugia. Party civile lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia were also present. In the audience, Caruana Galizia's late husband, two of her sisters and her parents attended for yesterday's proceedings.

Last week, presiding magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit heard how a ‘fishing buddy’ of the accused was asked to top up George Degiorgio’s mobile phone on the day of the murder. Degiorgio was supposed to go fishing with the man that morning however he never appeared.

Lawyers Martin Fenech, Josette Sultana, William Cuschieri and Martha Muscat are representing the accused. Inspectors Kurt Zahra and Keith Arnaud are prosecuting, while being assisted by Deputy AG Philip Galea Farrugia. Lawyers Therese Comodini and Jason Azzopardi are appearing parte civile for the family.

The case continues on 15 February.

Follow a minute by minute account of court proceedings below.

12.55pm: The accused are led out of the courtroom and will now be taken back to Corradino Correctional Facility. 

12.50pm: The magistrate brings the session to a close. The next hearing will take place on Thursday, 15 February at 9.30am. Magistrate Stafrace Zammit goes ahead and books the subsequent hearing too, pencilling it in for 22 February. 

12.45pm Jason Azzopardi says the defence's claims about the attorney general's "quasi judicial" role hold no water. Martin Fenech intervenes, and the two lawyers argued over legal niceties. The magistrate listens in and takes note. 

12.37pm: The courts are now dealing with the second application by the defence, dealing with the prosecution being assisted by the Deputy AG throughout these proceedings and that this will cause prejudice should the case come before a jury, because the AG will be prosecuting in that case. Defence lawyer described the AG’s role as ‘quasi-judicial’.

12.33pm: Defence said the prison warden should come to come testify and describe how she came to a decision regarding visiting times for the three accused. The magistrate said that the law provides for looking into this matter, and if discrimination is found then the necessary steps will be taken like what happened in similar circumstances in the past. The defence questioned if the accused are really being presumed innocent if so many extra precautions are being taken against them.

12.28pm: Deputy AG Galea Farrugia said the law provides for particular cases and that the specifics around each case and prisoner differs. Defence said that if there is a particular reason for the accused being treated differently, then let it be known and the lawyers can challenge this. Galea Farrugia said that the family is allowed to visit for the same length of time as everyone else. Magistrate Stafrace Zammit said the law provides for discretion with regard to visiting parameters, and there are reasons for this kind of discretion.

12.20pm: Court back in session. Defence lawyer William Cuschieri raises issue of a court application about the accused’s visiting hours. He refers to the AG’s response to the defence’s application. Cuschieri said that the AG misunderstood that the accused want to visit their family in the same location and time that other prisoners receive visits from their family. Cuschieri clarified that he is requesting that the suspects are treated equally as other inmates. He said that as other prisoners receive family visitors on a separate table with officers present, his clients should be allowed the same privacy. Cuschieri argued that other prisoners receive visitors at 4pm while his client’s family must come at 5.30pm, which is too late where small children are involved. He said that while it is up to the Prison Warden’s discretion to decide visiting times, he must not prejudice the accused. He added that the accused are subject to conditions where they are only allowed to speak to their family in a small room with three officers hearing every word. Not all prisoners are subject to such treatment, he stressed. Other prisoners visit their family in big rooms with officers in the vicinity, while the accused has three officers purposely overhearing every word exchanged between the three men and their family.

11.53am: Stafrace Zammit said that the defence and prosecution are free to make any observations they may wish to make. The court adjourned for 10 minutes.

11.49am: A police officer took the stand. He described the events that took place after arriving on the scene.

11.41am: Sergeant Juan Mula took the witness stand. He described how on the day of Daphne’s murder, he was immediately informed. He was with another inspector and the pair where in Zebbug, meaning that by 3.05pm they were on the scene. A fire engine had already been present. He delegated what police officers on site should do and heard commotion due to an altercation between Matthew Caruana Galizia and a resident. Mula, when asked about the argument, said he heard commotion but did not see them. He described how large the fire was. He described how he continued to delegate where police should be stationed and how to proceed.

11.33am: Witness Jesmond Pace took the witness stand. He is employed as a panel beater at Paul’s Garage in Mriehel. He testified about a Peugeot 108 which he surveyed. He said that the car was taken to him on 16 September. He said that David Fenech called him about a Peugeot 108 which needed tending to. Pace said that David Fenech had to leave the car parked behind the garage and post the keys. Some confusion took place because the keys were posted in the wrong letter box. The witness obtained the number of the nearby garage in order to retrieve the keys. The car's back bumper had been damaged and it was therefore replaced, Pace told the court. Around the 25th, the car was returned to the rental company Percius. Asked about who had access to the car keys in the week Pace had the car, the witness said that only he had access. He confirmed that he had never seen any of the three accused before and that their face was not familiar.

11.31am: Witness Michael Savone, a representative of Transport Malta, took the stand. He deals with boating registration. He testified that George Degiorgio has a boat called Ducu under his name. Alfred Degiorgio has the boat registered Maya under his name, despite the previous owner saying he dealt with George Degiorgio for the sale.

11.26am: Karen Cremona from Transport Malta took the stand. She spoke about a Peugeot 108 used for rental purposes registered under Vision Car Leasing. She described a number of cars registered to Vince Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio.

11.19am: Witness Ivan Formosa from Siggiewi took the witness stand. He used to own the pleasure boat Maya, and confirmed that he sold it in 2017. He said he had sold it to George Degiorgio, and presented a contract. The boat had been purchased in 2008 by Formosa. He received €10,000 deposit by Degiorgio, and then another €20,00 was transferred in cash. The transfer was made on 16 February 2017. He received the money in Marsa. Boat was moored at the Msida marina, and Formosa took care of it being transferred to Marsa. Formosa confirmed the boat had no registration number, but it was named ‘Maya’ and was registered with the authorities. Asked about whether anybody else was involved in the selling of the boat, Formosa said no.

11.14am: Nadine Ellul took the witness stand. Ellul was spoken to by police in the course of their investigation. She was questioned about a SIM card in her possession between 2014-2015. She confirmed that one particular number hadn’t been used since 2015, and then the number was changed. She confirmed she was a Vodafone user. Asked by Zahra, she confirmed that she did not tell anybody about her change in number. When she was cross examined by Fenech, she said that for personal reasons she changed sim and that the sim card in question has now been passed on to the police.

11.10am: Carmelo Fava’s wife Gloria took the witness stand. The flat rented by Degorgio is in Triq il-Tonn, St Paul's Bay. Inspector Zahra asked her to read out Degiorgio's mobile number, which she did. She identified Alfred Degiorgio and her testimony ended.

11.06am: The first witness has taken the stand, Carmelo Fava. He was spoken to by the police because he rents a place in St Paul’s Bay to Alfred Degiorgio. He rented out his place to Alfred Degiorgio since August 2017 for €800 a month, paid in cash. Degiorgio called Fava's wife to pay for the rent each month. Fava explained that before Degiorgio rented the flat it had been vacant for a few months. The witness identified Alfred Degiorgio.

11.04am: The court ruled that the the expert appointed by the court, Richard Aquilina, had nothing to do with the search warrant issued on the day of the arrest. Therefore, because Aquilina was appointed by the inquiring magistrate, the courts accept the request.

11.02am: Defence lawyer Cuschieri stressed if an inventory had to take place, it should have been done on the day of the arrest.

11am: Defence lawyer Martin Fenech raises an objection because the arrest warrant and the search warrant were not presented to the accused before the police conducted a search at the Marsa shed, rendering it illegal. Inspector Zahra provided legal arguments to counter the objection, saying the location of the search warrant issued was not relevant. Fenech argued that the police had cordoned off the shed meaning there is no way of knowing what was contained within at the time of the arrest.

10.58am: Inspector Zahra requested an inventory of the potato shed in Marsa where the accused were arrested. In particular, an inventory of the room found within the shed is being requested in order to present a representation of the same place to the court.

10.56am: Inspector Kurt Zahra asked to be given any evidence found by Europol through their cooperation with the magisterial inquiry under Anthony Vella. Zahra asked if experts from Europol could testify, and if local authorities could analyze evidence acquired by Europol. Stafrace Zammit reminded the defence that once they get a copy of the inquiry, and they see which experts will testify and what evidence was acquired by Europol, they may respond to the documents at their own leisure.

10.54am: Deputy AG Galea Farrugia asked for a full copy of the acts of the magisterial inquiry carried out by magistrate Anthony Vella into the murder of Caruana Galizia. Magistrate Vella had taken over the inquiry from Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera. Stafrace Zammit confirmed the nomination of court experts appointed.

10.50am: The defence lawyers brought up a court application about the conditions under which the accused are being held. Last session defence lawyers argued that the accused were not being treated fairly as they were not permitted to have their family visit in the same way that other inmates do. 

10.49am: The magistrate said that if they argued that the leaks impinged in the accused’s right to a fair trial that would be one thing, however this was not the case. The magistrate ordered the defence application to be sent to the director of prisons.

10.48am: The defence lawyers argued that it is not likely that the leaks came from prison. They asked for the magistrate to take action. The magistrate said there is little she can do, saying these leaks happen in many cases. The defence team registered a court application for the director of prisons to launch an investigation into the leaks.

10.47am: Stafrace Zammit said the leak could have come from prison or hospital.

10.45am Defence lawyer Martin Fenech complained that his client’s illness while in prison was leaked to the press. He said the information was not correct. He asked the magistrate to issue a directive and said the right to privacy should be respected. Defence lawyer William Cuschieri argued it is not fair that people are commenting about the illness.

10..44am: Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit has entered.

10.43am: The accused have just been brought into the courtroom.

10.25am: Parte civile lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia have arrived, alongside the late journalist’s husband Peter Caruana Galizia.

10.18am: Daphne Caruana Galizia's parents and sister Helene are in the courtoom. Deputy AG Philip Galea Farrugia and prosecuting inspector Kurt Zahra have also arrived. Defence Lawyer William Cuschieri is also present. Neither the magistrate nor the accused are in the court room yet.

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