Former worker at Italian food shop recalls moment thief shot and killed his colleague
An Italian national who used to work at Chef Italie food shop, the place where the murder of Vittorio Cassone took place 23 years ago, recalled the moment an armed thief entered the shop and shot his colleague.
Fabrizio Comaldini, who at the time of the murder was 19 years old, was called to testify in a trial by jury yesterday.
The murder took place in 1993 at the Chef Italie food shop in St Julian’s. Vittorio Cassone, an Italian national, was killed after a masked man shot him following an armed robbery. In the theft, the masked man stole Lm150 (roughly €350 in today’s money). The man charged with the murder cannot be named by court order since he was a minor at the time of the incident.
Mr Comaldini testified he was next to the victim, behind the cash register. At one point, a man wearing jeans and a redchecked shirt entered the shop carrying a small pistol in hand. The thief was shouting ‘karti, karti,’ wanting the cash from the register. As Mr Comaldini was looking down at the cash register, getting the money, he heard a shot being fired.
“At that instant, I thought he had shot me and I fell backwards. But then I looked and saw Mr Cassone on the floor,” he testified.
He said that at first, he had thought that Mr Cassone had fainted while the thief had managed to escape with the money. The witness said that at first glance, he did not see any blood. But then, he leaned down to his colleague and, underneath the victim’s shirt, he saw a small hole just above his heart. He said that there was no blood flowing from the wound and recalled how Mr Cassone drew his last gasps of breath while in his arms.
At the time, there was also a client in the restaurant and she had her handbag stolen. The witness would not recall the date, but said it was between 4pm and 5pm.
The prosecution asked the witness to describe the pistol and the face of the man. He said it was a semi-automatic, small calibre hand gun. He recalled that the man looked relatively young with clear eyes, blonde hair and the skin colour was relatively fair.
The court, presided by Judge Antonio Mizzi, heard how during the identification parade which took place back in 1993, the witness had identified the accused with ‘99%’ of certainty. He said he did not say 100% for fear of having to face the man, or maybe the accused would escape from prison and come back to haunt him.
He identified the accused sitting in the court hall.
The Judge also asked if at any point, the police had presented him with photos showing faces. The witness remembered that this happened and said that he had identified ‘a couple of people’ who looked very similar. “Did you identify these same persons in the ID parade?” the Judge asked as the witness confirmed this.
During the cross examination, Dr Marion Camilleri said that the man had identified a certain Jason Galea. She asked if the witness is confused as he gave four different versions.
“So you were undecided until someone suggested one particular person?” she asked.
But the prosecution objected to this claim and the Judge warned them to be very careful with this line of questioning.
Pressed to state if he is convinced on who he is identifying, the witness said that a lot of years have passed and he might be able to recognise him if the accused wears a sock on his head.
“In that little time, I could see his clear eyes and now that I see him here, I am a little more convinced of who I had identified,” Mr Comaldini said.
But Dr Camilleri insisted that not even today, he could not be convinced on the man’s height, because at the time of the murder, the witness was standing on a platform behind the counter. She also asked why is it that his signature could only be found on one ID parade, “was it because you were not convinced?”
The witness said he did not know.
Asked to clarify what photos he was shown beyond the ID parade, the man said that it was not a booklet full of photos, but was presented with some ‘ten photos’.
The defence then asked if the man recalled the police inspector saying that they suspect that the accused was behind this. But the witness said he could not remember.
Marion Camilleri kept asking why the man was not convinced when he was asked to identify the accused and the witness reiterated that he only said ‘99%’ because he was afraid. At the time of the murder, the accused was out of prison as he had escaped. But the defence said that if the witness was truly afraid, then he could have identified the man ‘100%’ to put him back inside.
The session continued in the afternoon, with the defence asking whether Mr Comaldini knows of any relationship between Mr D’Agostino (former employee at the restaurant) and the victim’s wife. The witness said that he had not contacted Mr D’Agostino since 1993.
When asked again, for the third time, to recall what had happened, Mr Comaldini said that the thief had no reason to shoot, because he was not threatened by us. “I don’t know if he shot the victim by mistake or not. All I know is that it could have been me.”
Earlier yesterday, the jury was shown a number of photos taken by the forensic officer on duty at the time, Alfio Borg. The photos showed the food shop, the empty cartridge on the floor and the cadaver of the victim lying on the floor behind the counter.
Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Anne Marie Cutajar from the office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are the defence counsel.