The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Stab wounds, not doctors, caused Hugo Chetcuti's death, prosecutor says

Tuesday, 12 October 2021, 13:07 Last update: about 3 days ago

A prosecutor in the jury trial of Bojan Cmelik, who stands accused of the murder of Paceville impresario Hugo Chetcuti has asked jurors to “screenshot” the first surgical intervention, saying that if not yet morally convinced that the cause of death was stab wounds, one should stop at that moment.

“You can’t go where the defence is leading you…” lawyer Kevin Valletta said in his two hour-long closing statement, holding the murder weapon as a prop. “If you are morally convinced that Cmelik approached the victim with this knife, a 15cm fishing knife, that he wanted to kill or put the life in manifest jeopardy then you cannot follow the defence’s thinking.”

“Why did Chetcuti not die on the 6th? Certainly not because of the accused. He wanted to kill him,” Valletta said.

“The law states that a person shall be guilty of wilful homicide if maliciously, with intent to kill, puts the life of another person in manifest jeopardy, pointed out the prosecutor.

“He stabbed Chetcuti. Not once, twice – but not with the intent to kill, according to the defence.”

“Even if the death was not desired, he still acted recklessly and indifferently as to whether Hugo Chetcuti died or not.”

On the defence’s suggestion that the doctors who treated Chetcuti had to bear some responsibility for his death, Valletta pointed out that there was a “time factor.” It was a race against time to operate on Chetcuti, before he bled out, Valletta said.

The accused stabbed the victim twice in “just a second” said the prosecutor.

“The big ‘why’ I cannot give to you. We will never have the motive and it is not something I need to prove as a prosecutor…We don’t think the intention to kill was formed there and then. It was pre-meditated.

“For us, Bojan Cmelik is guilty of wilful homicide, for us Hugo Chetcuti died as a result of the stab wounds.

“Yes I was worried when Mario Scerri told us that…Chetcuti showed signs of recovery. That’s why we called Mr. Alex Attard to testify again today. “According to Attard’s patient notes he was stable.”

He defended the decision not to caution the doctors that their testimony might incriminate them. “We didn’t feel as the prosecution that we had to caution them. What we have on trial here is Mr. Bojan Cmelik not the doctors. The doctors did their utmost to save him.”

The prosecution said it had “some concerns” about medico-legal expert Mario Scerri’s conclusions.

“He is a medical expert, but was Mario Scerri there? What did the witnesses testify here? Even the pathologists did not find the third wound at first.” Scerri’s assertion that Chetcuti’s condition had deteriorated in hospital was not backed up by the other medical witnesses, Valletta said.

There was also a discrepancy on the exact time of death as reported by the doctors and Scerri.

He reminded the jurors that they were not duty bound to abide by the conclusions of the experts.

If he had not been stabbed, Hugo Chetcuti would not have died. And the person responsible for that is Bojan Cmelik. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury we are morally convinced that yes Mr Bojan Cmelik wanted to kill Hugo Chetcuti or put his life in manifest jeopardy…that’s what we believe and if its not what we believe we wouldn’t be here,” Valletta said, calling upon the jury to do justice by the victim, his family and society at large.

Defence: medical professionals “bear some responsibility”

Earlier today the defence of Bojan Cmelik rested after a brief address to jurors by lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, in which he argued that Chetcuti’s death was, at least in part, the responsibility of the medical professionals who treated him for stab wounds inflicted by his client.

Eschewing the usual theatrics and long-winded oratory usually brought to bear on jurors, Micallef Stafrace limited himself to 30 minutes of argument.

“The situation of what my client has been accused of is quite straightforward, wilful homicide, resisting police officers and carrying a knife. It is the opinion of the defence that there was enough evidence on resistance and carrying a knife…We are focusing on the homicide situation.”

The lawyer said that most of the facts in the case were clear, but that the problem lay with the interpretation of the facts. “When you interpret the facts, it cannot just be straightforward and simple. It is not always so, they have to be interpreted within the context of the accusation. This is important.”

Micallef Stafrace said he had no issue with the DNA evidence, or the eyewitnesses themselves. “They have no interest in deviating from the horrible truth which they saw with their own eyes.”

“Where the issue of credibility might arise, and I’m being kind, is what happened in hospital.”

“There is another fact which unfortunately there is no doubt, that unfortunately Mr. Chetcuti was stabbed. We have seen the footage, you have been on site, you have heard the witnesses. Undeniable fact. This is the crux of the matter…we have other facts which lead to an element of uncertainty, where one is not so sure. This is the element of doubt.” Where there is a reasonable doubt, it must be examined and interpreted in favour of the accused, argued the lawyer.

“There is another fact which we must deal with. That Mr Chetcuti died of septicaemia. It is the defence’s position that there is an element of responsibility on the hospital in the larger sense of the word and we believe that a number of mistakes were made in hospital and therefore the question that arises : where does the responsibility of the hospital supplant that of the accused.”

“Were the actions of the people in hospital the cause of Mr. Chetcuti’s death? Very simple.”

“It has been made amply clear what the first mistake was, and that was the non-discovery of the third perforation…the second one was the delay in operating again.”

“Why am I saying this? Because even though the accusation is of homicide, the law does give you options.” There are other, lesser crimes beyond simple homicide. There is grievous bodily harm from which death ensues... There is another even lesser one where death occurred as a result of a supervening accidental cause and not as a natural result of the offence.”

It’s not a simple instance of using the word “complications” …what we are staying is that these man-made complications resulted in the death of Hugo Chetcuti. Why is this important?

He said a chain of events had to be proven in this case, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

“As has been said elsewhere, does the original injury remain the operative and significant cause of death?”

“Was the death an inevitable result of the injury?” asked the lawyer, ending his speech.

Defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace will deliver his rejoinder shortly, after which all will remain is the judge's final address.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Mario Spiteri appeared on behalf of the Chetcuti family. Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Maria Francesca Spiteri from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Mario Spiteri appeared on behalf of the Chetcuti family. Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Maria Francesca Spiteri from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted.

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