Qbajjar murder trial | Victim was face down on ground when car struck him

Victim John Spiteri died from complications from crush injuries suffered when he was pinned under the car driven by Gerald Galea

Matthew Agius
28 September 2017, 2:02pm
The man killed after being run over following an argument in a Qbajjar car park in Gozo, was already face down on the ground when he was run over by Gerald Galea, a jury has been told.

Forensic medicine expert Dr Mario Scerri, appointed to examine those involved by the inquiring magistrate at the time, took the witness stand in the trial of Galea, 67, charged with the murder of John Spiteri, 45, in 2013.

Galea was fleeing from the scene of an altercation with Spiteri and his son Matthew, whom he chided for cutting a tamarisk tree, when he ran over Spiteri. He is also indicted with the attempted murder of Matthew Spiteri and causing damage to the car he was driving, which was his brother-in-law’s.

Scerri explained that Spiteri had died from complications from the crush injuries suffered when he was pinned under the car. He showed jurors a slideshow documenting his examination of Matthew Spiteri, the body of his father John, and the accused, in June 2013.

Matthew Spiteri had two long scratches on his right shoulder, superficial abrasions on his left abdomen, bruises on his arm, some of them older than others, as well as swelling on the back of his right hand.

Family members were seen wiping away tears as slides of John Spiteri’s bloodied face were projected in court for the jurors to see.

The victim had been admitted to hospital confused, hypotensive and tachycardic, the doctor said. “He was unable to speak because he was having difficulty breathing.”

Spiteri then suffered a heart attack after being admitted and attempts to resuscitate him had failed, he said. He was declared dead 20 minutes later.

Scerri explained that CT scans showed the victim suffered extensive internal injuries. “He couldn’t be helped medically. He was admitted in a very bad state and unfortunately lost his life,” Scerri said, explaining that the complications were caused by pressure on his chest.

Photos showed Spiteri’s battered face and body, covered in bruises and abrasions which were compatible with having been dragged. Tyre scrape-marks on the body showed how Galea’s Daihatsu ran him over, with Spiteri pinned underneath the moving car, headfirst and face-down but the sides of the sides of the tyres only scraped him, Scerri said. “The wheels had not gone over him, as these would have caused different injuries... These are the type of injuries you suffer when a car drives over you and drags you.”

The expert had also examined the accused the day after his arrest. The jury was shown photographs of Gerald Galea’s face, his left eye swollen shut, purple and bruised. Fresh bruises were also visible on both sides of his jaw. Galea had suffered a fracture to his right temple and nasal bone, said the expert.

Matthew Spiteri’s injuries predated the incident by over 24 hours and had no connection to it, aside from a swelling on palm of his hand, consistent with a punch, concluded the expert.

Gerald Galea’s injuries and fractures were compatible with having suffered a number of punches to his eye and chin and were classified as grievous per durata (taking over 30 days to heal). His second examination of Gerald Galea, carried out in prison on 22 June 2013 had confirmed his initial findings, he said.

‘No evidence of a primary impact’

Cross-examined by lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who is defence counsel to Galea, the expert said the swelling on Matthew Spiteri’s hand could have indicated a punch being thrown or received by the limb. “It was a recent injury,” he said.

Azzopardi asked if the injuries indicated that Matthew Spiteri had been hanging onto the car with one hand while it was being driven at speed, before letting go. “He didn’t have lesions compatible with hanging off the door of a speeding car. All he had was hand trauma.”

Scerri also said that the damage to the bumper was not caused by the impact with the deceased, after he was shown photos of the damaged front left part of the car.

He said the pattern of injuries was what was expected with pedestrian impacts: “There were secondary injuries from impacts on the bonnet and windscreen. There is no evidence of this on the car or the body. There is no evidence of a primary impact. He had no fractures of long bones. This is not a normal impact of a person being run over at traffic lights… he could not have been hit by the car. He is a big man, he would definitely have left a mark on the vehicle. The mechanism of that impact is different from that which we are used to seeing.

“That he was hit by the car is a fact. That he ended up underneath is a fact,” Scerri said, continuing that Spiteri was probably already on the ground when the car drove over him.

The defence pointed out that yesterday the jury had heard witness Joseph Asciak’s testimony, in which he said that he saw a man running and a car behind him, trip up and the car going over him. Scerri concurred. “The mechanism of injury shows you this. I think this account is credible. The abrasions were caused by friction with the mixed tarmac and stony surface of the parking lot.”

Azzopardi showed the witness a photo taken by the scene of crime officers, showing the gravel surface. Asked about the black eye suffered by the deceased, the expert said that this could have been caused by gravity and not a direct impact to the eye.

Scerri also said that Gerald Galea had received at least four punches, his right eye socket having been fractured. “The blow that fractured the orbit of the eye had been delivered with a certain power. To break the orbit you need a strong blow. It would hurt. Studies show that a fracture of orbit could cause a vasovagal attack and cause loss of consciousness due to the excruciating pain,” Scerri said.

Scerri then said that while the injury would not have cause a loss of vision, the eye might have been closed. “Physical pain causes a release of adrenalin and a fight, flight or fright response,” Scerri said.

Azzopardi pointed out that Galea was 64 at the time and was being treated for high blood pressure and had been injured in this way. “Would this increase the adrenalin effect?”

“He was lucky not to have suffered a stroke or died,” replied the expert witness, however pointing out that Galea had not exhibited any signs of this at hospital.

A juror asked whether the blow to the head could have affected the judgment or reflexes. “Temporarily a person would be confused. It is a fact. Everyone can react in unexpected ways under the effect of adrenalin.”

Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Giannella Busuttil from the Office of the Attorney General are prosecuting. Galea is being defended by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jason Azzopardi. Lawyer Joe Giglio is appearing as parte civile for the Spiteri family.

Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...