Chef Italie mur­der trial: De­fence says pros­e­cu­tion’s wit­nesses ‘liars’, ju­rors have ‘an easy job’

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Neil Camil­leri

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.

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