The Malta Independent 31 January 2023, Tuesday
View E-Paper

Degiorgio brothers request retrial in Daphne murder case after pleading guilty

Thursday, 3 November 2022, 16:32 Last update: about 4 months ago

Barely two weeks after their sensational courtroom admission to having planted and detonated the car bomb which claimed the life of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, her self-confessed killers are demanding that they be retried.

Lawyers for George and Alfred Degiorgio, the two brothers who were sentenced to imprisonment for 40 years earlier this month after pleading guilty to the murder at the beginning of their trial by jury, filed an appeal application in which they request their trial by jury begin again.

ADVERTISEMENT

The application to the Court of Criminal Appeal was signed by lawyers Noel Bianco and Leslie Cuschieri.

6 weeks not enough to sift through "colossal amount of evidence"

The lawyers argue that after the brothers' lawyer of choice, William Cuschieri, had dropped the Degiorgio’s brief 6 weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin, they had unsuccessfully tried to engage other lawyers. Every lawyer they approached had felt there was “insufficient time to go through the colossal amount of evidence, most of them documents which had been filed by the prosecution,” reads the appeal application.

At the beginning of September, the Criminal Court had appointed lawyers Simon Micallef Stafrace and Martin Farrugia as legal aid, without delaying the trial. The legal aid lawyers had themselves informed the court that it was impossible for them to acquaint themselves with the 11,000 pages of evidence, as well as the 77,000 audio and video files in the time left before the start of the trial.

The defendants had applied to the Constitutional court for an interim measure, which would postpone the trial, but this was also denied, although the trial date was pushed back by 10 days.

As it was highly unlikely that the jury would succeed in going through all this evidence during the trial, it would be up to the defence lawyers to draw the jurors’ attention to the most important pieces of evidence, the application argues.

To protest at this situation, Alfred Degiorgio had gone on hunger strike, refusing food and water some days before the trial began, which caused him to be brought to trial while in a “very weak physical and mental state.”

“The applicants felt that the legal aid lawyers had been imposed on them when no lawyer trusted by the applicants saw sufficient time to study the case and responsibly prepare an adequate defence in the space of a few days.”

This had also been pointed out to the court by the legal aid lawyers themselves, who dictated a note at the start of the trial, in which they said that they had not examined all the evidence at that point in time as it was “physically impossible.” “This automatically means that they could not offer an adequate defence.”

Upon hearing this declaration by the defence lawyers in court, “George Degiorgio felt he was going to a duel, unarmed, and instead of going through a pointless jury trial, felt that an admission should be filed,” reads the appeal application.

George Degiorgio had then convinced his brother to do the same, “and he, being in an extremely weakened state, followed his brother.”

The Degiorgios said they felt hard done by, both with respect to the Criminal Court’s 14 October decision not to postpone the trial and also with the sentence the same court handed them, from which they wished to appeal.

Their lawyers conceded that it was true that the Criminal Code lays down a 20 day minimum period for defence lawyers to prepare for a trial by jury, pointing out that no maximum period was so specified. But this 20 day period is the same in every trial, irrespective of the complexity or amount of documentation involved.

The Criminal Code also allowed for the postponement of a trial by jury if it is convinced that there was a good reason for this.

The judge’s decision to declare that the Legal Aid lawyers had sufficient time to prepare the brothers’ defence, as well as its ordering of those self-declared unprepared lawyers to defend them rendered the jury trial and the subsequent sentence null, argued the Degiorgio’s new counsel.

Guilty plea was a choice of an "instant death" over a "prolonged death"

The brothers’ also appealed against the length of the prison sentence they received, arguing that they had ended up in a situation where they were unable to discuss their defence with lawyers who were well acquainted with the evidence to be exhibited in the trial.

This, they said, violated the cardinal principle of equality of arms, which implied that the men would have a lawyer of their choosing, who would acquaint himself with the case and that there would be sufficient time for the accused and the lawyer to discuss defence strategy.

“A jury can normally be likened to a duel, where the prosecution fires from one side while the defence shoots back…But this particular trial could only be compared to a firing squad, where the prosecution was armed to the teeth…while the accused had their hands tied, unarmed and exposed to everything coming at them.”

It was in this context that George Degiorgio, followed by Alfred Degiorgio, requested an “instant death’ to avoid the “unjust prospect of a prolonged death,” said the lawyers.

The second ground for the appeal was Alfred Degiorgio’s self-inflicted weakened state, a result of his hunger strike. This affected his ability to resist, or properly think through, his brother’s suggestion to throw in the towel.

It was not enough that a court-appointed psychiatrist had examined him and declared him fit to stand trial, argued the lawyers. “For example when a person is subjected to torture, that person is grounded and understands what is happening, but is stripped of the will and strength to make good decisions.”

CCTV footage showed Alfred Degiorgio as “a man with no strength at all” at the time, said the lawyers, adding that “therefore his admission and his acceptance of the plea deal must be deemed defective and ineffective.”

The lawyers asked the court to revoke the sentence and order the case be reappointed for trial.

  • don't miss