Gaffarena murder: Accused were in the same car as victims

Two young men accused of murder in an Mqabba shooting were in the same car as the victims • Handgun used in murder seen in accused’s bedroom

Saviour Gaffarena (left) was murdered with a shot to his head, while his cousin Vince Gaffarena (right) was injured
Saviour Gaffarena (left) was murdered with a shot to his head, while his cousin Vince Gaffarena (right) was injured

Two teenagers accused of murder were in the same car as the victims when one of them brandished a handgun and started shooting.

The accused, teenagers Leon Debono and Owen Schembri, were picked up by Vince Gaffarena, who also had his cousin, Saviour Gaffarena, in the car.

Saviour Gaffarena was killed with a shot to his head, while Vince was hit in the head and abdomen but survived.

Magistrate Nadine Lia will issue a decree from chambers as to whether the court had seen sufficient prima facie evidence to place Debono and Schembri under indictment.

Police Inspector Kurt Zahra testified today, telling the court how he had found the victim on the ground next to a Renault Megane.

Saviour Gaffarena was lying in a pool of blood, being given CPR by an ambulance crew when he arrived, Zahra said. “Less than a minute later, he was declared dead at the scene.”

Zahra said he had noted that there was blood and lumps of flesh on the back seat of the car.

The other shooting victim was conscious and told the police, by means of a written note that Debono and Schembri were responsible.

A third name, Carmel Susella, a relative of one of the men was written down too, he said.

Police from the special intervention unit were roped in to help with the arrests.

Assistant Commissioner Alessandro Gatt was searching for the men and spotted a girl and a youth in Kirkop. The youth, who attempted to run away, was then captured and was identified as Debono. Schembri was arrested outside his home.

The next morning Vince Gaffarena was awake in ITU and could be questioned. He told the police that he had picked up the aggressors and gone for a drive in his car, a three-door Renault Megane.

Behind him on the backseat was Saviour Gaffarena.

Schembri, who was also seated on the back, had a weapon and started to show it off. According to what Vince told the police, an argument ensued but he was not sure about what.

Leon Debono then shot Vince Gaffarena in the face and another time in the chest. Vince Gaffarena got out of the car and ran off but Leon carried on shooting.

Saviour Gaffarena was found with an entry and exit wound to his head.

A 17-year-old friend of both accused, who cannot be named by court order, told the police that he had been with his girlfriend, following the live updates on the media.

He recognised the car in the news story and knew that Owen Schembri would be with the victims. After calling him five times to no avail, he had received a call from Schembri, who asked him to come over. The teen walked to Kirkop.

The accused had told him that they had shot the men, who claimed that Vince Gaffarena had pulled out a knife and threatened to stab them.

The weapon had been disposed of in the entrance parapet of a block of flats by Schembri. Seeing the state of confusion, the accused were in, the 17-year-old had picked up the weapon, dismantled it and disposed of it in three different locations.

The largest part was found in the middle of a prickly pear tree, the court heard.

The 17-year-old then took the stand next. He was cautioned by the magistrate that his testimony could lead to him being charged. He said he wanted to testify anyway. 

Speaking in a low mumble, the youth said that he had dismantled and disposed of the murder weapon to remove the danger to the public.

Few words were exchanged between the three youths at the time because they were panicked, he said. Meeting at Schembri’s grandmother’s house, he said the two accused “were looking out of the windows a lot.”

The witness said that he had been shown a handgun in Schembri’s bedroom before the crime had taken place. He said it was the same weapon that he later threw in the prickly pear tree. Leon had known about his dismantling and disposal of it, he said.

Making submissions on whether or not to indict the men, lawyer Arthur Azzopardi said that in order to find Schembri ready for bill of indictment the court had to be morally convinced that there were prima facie grounds for it.

Azzopardi said the evidence was very far from this level of conviction. “There is nothing pointing to any involvement of Schembri in the murder. We are light years away from this. The evidence shows that he can never be indicted.”

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell also contested prima facie, arguing that all the evidence heard this morning was hearsay. “Other than that, there is nothing in this case.”

Prosecuting Inspector Keith Arnaud replied that there was much more than hearsay.

Parte civile lawyer James D’Agostino said it was clear that one of the accused was at fault, “but not both.”

Lawyer Alfred Abela, appearing for Schembri, insisted that there was no proof that showed it was probable that his client had pulled the trigger. “The only thing we have is that Gaffarena said that Leon Debono fired the shots. My client was at the back in a 3-door car, with no way out of it.”

Prima facie is individual not collective, added lawyer Arthur Azzopardi. "On Owen Schembri, there is nothing. "

The court put the case off, announcing that it would be delivering its decree on prima facie from chambers.

More in Court & Police