Maria Lourdes Agius murder: Michael Emmanuel not insane, appeals court confirms

The Court of Criminal Appeal has rejected an attempt by the man accused of murdering Maria Lourdes Agius to be retroactively declared insane at the time of the murder

Michael Emmanuel (in red shirt) has lost his appeal against a court decision that declared he was sane when committing the murder (File photo)
Michael Emmanuel (in red shirt) has lost his appeal against a court decision that declared he was sane when committing the murder (File photo)

A man, accused of murder and who tried to retroactively be declared insane had his bid thrown out by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Michael Emmanuel stands accused of strangling his former partner, Maria Lourdes Agius, to death with a crucifix on 14 September 2018 in her bedroom in Paola.

He was also accused of causing grievous bodily harm to her elderly mother, disobeying police orders and forging his identity papers.

The judgment means that the compilation of evidence against Emmanuel can continue.

Agius was the mother of seven children, one of whom was Emmanuel’s.

In July 2019, he had been declared to have been sane at the time of the murder, by a jury empanelled for the purpose of establishing his sanity or otherwise at the time. Michael Emmanuel had filed an appeal against that verdict.

In a decision handed down earlier this week, the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon and Madam Justice Edwina Grima, observed that “it is an established principle at criminal law that the state of insanity of accused person amounting to exemption from criminal responsibility does not necessarily tally with the meaning attributed to this state of mind in medical and psychiatric fields.”

Quoting from a raft of case law, including Republic vs David Norbert Schembri and the 1843 House of Lords case, R vs Mc Naghten, which established guidelines (“the Mc Naghten rules”) for dealing with insanity pleas, the court said that it was incumbent on the appellant to prove on the basis of probability, that at the time of the commission of the offence he was incapable of understanding that his actions were contrary to law and that he was unable to will the consequences of those actions.

It noted that the accused had been transferred from Corradino Correctional Facility to Mount Carmel Hospital due to aggressive behaviour.

Upon his admission, he was examined and “found to be suffering from a psychotic disorder, living under the grandiose delusion that he had a special contact with God and his late biological father, which thoughts appellant believes also had a direct influence on the tragic outcome of this case.”

Subsequently, his defence counsel had pleaded insanity and a jury was empanelled to establish whether there was a case of legal insanity at the time of the murder.

The jurors, by means of a verdict delivered on 5 July 2019, unanimously found that appellant was not in a state of insanity when the incident occurred.

Emmanuel had appealed this verdict, arguing that there was no valid reason for the jury to discard the report presented by the court expert, concluding that the appellant was insane according to law.

The court said that from the acts of the case, it emerged that the psychiatrist had only examined the mental health of the accused after the acts took place. “The question however remains whether or not accused/appellant was in fact insane when he allegedly performed the incriminating acts which he is accused of having committed...” said the court.

The psychiatrist who had examined the man over a month after the murder confirmed to the court that the psychosis could have developed after the incident as a response to the trauma he experienced.

The court observed that “…even if the Court, gratia argomenti, were to accept the diagnosis that appellant was suffering from a delusional psychosis at the time of the commission of the offence, this does not make him insane in terms of law, since he himself asserts that he wilfully pressed a cross on victim’s neck knowing that this could lead to her death, even though he was instructed to do so by victim herself since she was a bad omen and therefore had to be eliminated for him to be able to carry on with his life! He was therefore fully conscious of his actions and to the danger that these could pose to victim’s life.”

A medico-legal expert had categorically excluded the use of a cross in the course of the strangulation, adding that the victim had been beaten, and was probably unconscious by the time the strangulation had occurred – accounting for the lack of defensive wounds.

Having examined all the evidence in detail, the three judges said they were of the opinion that the grounds of appeal put forward by the appellant were unfounded.

The jurors could have legally and reasonably concluded that the appellant was not in a state of insanity according to the Criminal Code because Emmanuel had no history of mental illness before the murder, or past medical history of psychosis in his family at least during the 10 years he resided in Malta prior to the murder, the court said.

It also took into account the history of domestic violence reports to the police filed by the woman, indicating the violent nature of the appellant, as well as the fact that none of the lay witnesses and police officers who testified mentioned that Emmanuel had indicated any sign of mental illness after the crime, “all attesting to the fact that the appellant was always coherent in his words and actions.”

The judges noted that the appellant was aware that his actions were wrong since he himself confirmed that he used his left hand, “whilst cognitively being aware that his actions were ‘unclean.’”

Confirming the verdict and judgment of the Criminal Court, the Court of Criminal Appeal ordered that the acts of the case be remitted to the Court of Magistrates as a Court of Criminal Inquiry for the compilation of evidence against Emmanuel to continue.

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