Qbajjar murder trial | Victim's son says accused accelerated before final impact

The son of the man killed in Qbajjar car park in Marsalforn in 2013 yesterday gave a first-hand account of the fatal incident

Matthew Agius
1 October 2017, 4:08pm
Accused Gerald Galea, on the day of his arraignment in the Gozo courts
Accused Gerald Galea, on the day of his arraignment in the Gozo courts
The son of the man killed in Qbajjar car park in Marsalforn in 2013 yesterday gave a first-hand account of the fatal incident, saying the accused accelerated his car up until the moment he crashed into a wall.

Matthew Spiteri took the witness stand as the trial of 67-year-old Gerald Galea, who is charged with the murder of Spiteri’s father John and the attempted murder of the son, continued yesterday.

Galea was leaving the scene of an argument with John Spiteri, 45, over the trimming of a tamarisk tree, when he ran him over. The son, Matthew, a father of two, told jurors that he used to operate a kiosk with his father in the Qbajjar car park, but now worked as a blacksmith.

On the day of the incident, the father and son had gone to attach the kiosk’s temporary electricity meter at around 3pm. The electrician was running late, he said, so he had taken out an axe from the back of the truck to clean up the site.

“I cut a branch off a tree and started poking the soil with the branch to find the hole for the electrode. At that point Galea arrived in his SUV.

“He came in aggressively, not like a normal person coming to park. He told us, ‘I’ve noted down your number plate and I’m going to the police.’ He was aggressive, saying ‘Why did you cut down that tree, isn’t it enough to set up here?’ I told him to go to the police if he needed to.

“My father told me to take down his number plate. My dad was beside the car... in the meantime the insults and threats had continued. Galea was shouting and arrogant.

“I looked up and I saw that my dad had punched Galea... my dad was also bleeding from the left side of his lip. I told Galea ‘get out, what are you doing here.’ He stepped on the accelerator, revved the engine to the maximum... pulled away, almost knocked me over. Then he stopped, engine still screaming. Then he drove aggressively at me ... I zigzagged to get out of his way... he was shouting at my dad, ‘we’ll see about this John’.”

Spiteri then said he heard the car shudder like it was going over a sleeping policeman.

“In this case it was my father. Then he carried on turning in my direction, but he didn’t maintain the same acceleration, but the engine was still at high revs, making a lot of noise and he came straight at me.”

The witness said he dodged the oncoming car at the last moment. “When he scraped past me, I caught on to the doorframe and I gave him a few punches. Two hit him squarely, another one didn’t connect as well as I wanted. I looped my left arm around the pillar and punched him,” he said, making a motion with his right hand.

Spiteri then lost his grip and fell off, at which point he ran over to his stricken father.

No braking heard

Cross-examined, defence lawyer Arthur Azzopardi read the witness his original deposition, given to a magistrate on the day of the incident. The sequence of events was different.

Asked whether his father was also getting angry at Galea when the man confronted them, the witness said he was, but was at first, unable to recall what his father said.

“Galea said ‘now we’ll see if you’ll set up [the kiosk] in future’. To me this is a threat, it means I can’t earn my living,” Spiteri said. At that point, he saw his father punch the accused. “I was looking at my mobile and from the corner of my eye I saw my father punching him.”

In court yesterday, the son initially insisted that the victim had been at the front of the vehicle, but on the day of the incident, the witness had told a magistrate that the victim had gone to the rear of the truck.

He reaffirmed the latter version later on in his cross-examination. The judge asked whether the father had hit the car’s bonnet. “Yes he was on the bonnet. The rest of his body was on the front grille and headlamp and his legs on the ground.”

Azzopardi pointed out that the witness had told the magistrate that the father had been carried a distance on the car’s bonnet. “He did not somersault into the air, but was dragged under the car.”

Through a combination of gestures he later explained that his father had been perpendicular to the car when he was run over. He had told the duty magistrate at the time that he had seen the rear wheels pass over his father.

This week the jury also heard forensic specialist Dr Mario Scerri say the victim’s injuries showed he had been parallel to the car’s direction of travel and that the wheels had not gone over the man, but only scraped past him.

After running over the man, the car had performed a U-turn to run him over, Matthew Spiteri said, saying the car came at him at “a fast walking pace… He was coming straight at me, not at the same speed... I moved to the left and grabbed the pillar.”

Azzopardi observed that this was the first time that he had told a court that the car had slowed down. “Four years ago, the memory was fresher, but I was also panicked and confused. Now I have had every evening to see what this man has done,” he said, pointing at the accused in the dock.

Azzopardi asked him to elaborate on his claim that the car was being driven aggressively. “On the day of the incident, you had told the sergeant and the police inspector that the Terios had then ploughed straight into the tree and wall,” the lawyer said.

“He turned at the last moment and hit the tree and wall,” explained the witness.

Azzopardi continued: “The first time you had claimed to have thought the accused was going to run over your father again was three weeks later, after consulting with a lawyer…. you explained in detail to the magistrate at the police station how he had driven straight into a garbage bin – ‘not the recycling one’. That is how precise you had been.”

Spiteri replied: “The truth is that when I fell, I saw Galea driving in my dad’s direction, then turning and crashing. At that time I was in shock. I still am. I have spent four years thinking about this incident... to this day, my family ask me how things happened. It’s not something you can explain.”

The trial continues.

Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Giannella Busuttil 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...