Chef Italie murder trial: Defence says prosecution’s witnesses ‘liars’, jurors have ‘an easy job’
Lawyers defending a man who stands charged with murdering a restaurant employee during a 1993 hold-up insisted today that the prosecution had failed to prove its case and told jurors that they should not have any difficulty in returning a not guilty verdict.
The accused in the trial by jury cannot be named due to the fact that he was a minor when the incident took place.
Lawyer Franco Debono, leading the defence, started his submissions to the jury on Saturday and is expected to conclude sometime on Tuesday morning. The defence is attacking the credibility of most of the witnesses and is also basing its arguments on the fact that the murderer, who was wearing tights on his face during the robbery, had not been positively identified during the police line-up.
The case took place in 1993 at the Chef Italie food shop in St Julian’s. The victim, Vittorio Cassone, worked behind the counter. At one point a robber barged into the shop and demanded that Cassone and his workmates empty the cash register. The robber shot Cassone in the chest with a small revolver and made off with some Lm150 to Lm300 in cash.
Dr Debono pointed out what he said were inconsistencies, inaccuracies or outright lies by the main witnesses. One of these, Silvano D’Agostini, the chef, gave an “exaggerated” account of events in order to try and paint a “vivid picture,” the lawyer said. The witness had said the robber had “evil eyes” and claimed that he had “smelt” him. Dr Debono asked the jurors to consider the fact that the witness had not come forward with the information but had instead waited to be summoned by the police 23 years after the case occurred.
“This man had confirmed in his original statement that he could not positively identify the aggressor. Now he is saying he is sure it was the accused and that he did not say so back then because he was scared. This is nothing but another excuse.”
D’Agostini, the lawyer said, had also failed to tell the police that he was in a relationship with the wife of the deceased. He had also claimed that he was scared but said he had gone into the kitchen to fetch two knives when he saw the robber. This did not make any sense. Every single thing the witness had was being doubted. “The witness is a liar and cannot be believed. He lied on so many things.
Dr Debono said that, apart from the fact that the witness was a “self-professed liar” the jurors could not possibly rely on testimony that was given more than a decade after the case.
Another witness, Fabrizio Commaldini, who was the son of one of the restaurant’s owners, had, on eight different occasions, pointed out to another man during the police identification parade. “This means he was not even sure about the height of the robber because there is a big discrepancy between the sizes of the two men.”
Marco Russo, who used to give a helping hand at the restaurant, had looked “nervous and fidgety” while testifying, Dr Debono said. “He chose to testify in Maltese – he speaks Maltese so well that we had to ask him to slow down. Then he suddenly started asking for a translator, only to resume his testimony in Maltese. He is the classic unreliable witness.”
Another witness, Rosemary Suda, had had her handbag stolen during the robbery but she had also failed to positively identify the robber. This trial was all about identification of the accused yet there was no positive identification and no forensic link to the accused, the lawyer argued. Even if there was one witness who was consistent in his identification of the accused it would still not have been enough.
Dr Debono again pointed out that the police had not prosecuted the accused because they felt that there were too many doubts about the case. “A case has to be built on proof and there is no clear proof linking the accused.”
There was nothing to link the accused. Nothing related to the incident was found on his person or at his home. Witnesses do not even agree on who opened the cash register and handed over the cash.
Dr Debono said the prosecution has failed to prove its case jurors should have an easy task of returning a not guilty verdict. The prosecution, he said, had actually weakened its case by presenting a number of liars as witnesses.
The defence is expected to conclude is closing arguments tomorrow. It will then be the prosecution’s turn before Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi delivers his closing address.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are appearing for the accused while lawyers Kevin Valletta and Anne Marie Cutajar from the office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.