Bojan Cmelik guilty of Hugo Chetcuti murder, sentenced to life behind bars

Eight in favour, one against: the jury has found Bojan Cmelik guilty of murdering Paceville boss Hugo Chetcuti

Bojan Cmelik has been convicted of the 2018 murder of Hugo Chetcuti by a jury of his peers and sentenced to life imprisonment with periods of solitary confinement.

Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja read out the judgment in court, taking just under an hour.

The court, having seen the criminal record of the guilty man, and having heard the submissions by the lawyer of the Chetcuti family and having seen the near-unanimous verdict said it was the punishment that fitted the crime. The judge pointed out that the law did not bind the court not to give the maximum punishment.

A person found guilty of a crime punishable with imprisonment for life in addition with another crimes shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life, together with solitary confinement said the judge. “In this case the accused was found guilty not only of wilful homicide but also the other heads of indictment…which obliges the court to impose a life sentence.”

The judge noted that the facts of the case showed that it was clearly a pre-meditated homicide. Moreover the accused showed no remorse and committed the murder “for no reason.”

“One cannot simply kill another because his employment was terminated. God forbid such an act be tolerated,” read the judge, quoting the parte civile lawyer in his judgment.

Cmelik had previous convictions in Serbia for crimes against the person and crimes against property, noted the court.

This court said it had also visited other cases decided in the court of criminal appeal including those against Charles Busuttil and Jason Decelis. Even in cases where juries were not unanimous, the court had imposed life imprisonment said the judge, noting the strong verdict. “The sentence for the crime of wilful homicide is imprisonment for life, the wording of the law is clear…This punishment is fixed by law.” Discretion is to be exercised with caution and only in those cases deserving of this, said the judge. “The decision of the minority is to be respected but that of the overwhelming majority is also to be respected.”

“Violent crimes such as these are absolutely not acceptable…more so when committed for no apparent reason or futile motives,” said the judge.

“Such crimes hit at the very heart at the peace and tranquility that Malta deserves. It also morally and psychologically kills his loves ones. Their lives will never be the same again…”

“Having seen the law, this court condemns Bojan Cmelik to imprisonment for life, with solitary confinement.” Cmelik was also ordered to pay over €4000 in court costs.

The family rose to their feet applauding the judge as he left the courtroom, some family members hurling furious abuse at the guilty man.

Earlier: Jury declare Cmelik guilty by 8 votes to 1

Security in the courtroom was the tightest in this reporter’s experience, with two phases of metal detectors and all public and press mobile phones being temporarily confiscated. The balcony in Hall 22 was packed with Chetcuti’s family members and members of the public.

The foreman of the jury stood up and delivered the verdict: 8 in favour versus 1 against, finding him guilty of wilful homicide and the other heads of indictment.

Some family members of the victim punched the air silently, others wept quietly and still others heaved heavy sighs of relief.

Judge Aaron Bugeja proceeded to dismiss the jury, who had fulfilled their duty, and asked the parties to make submissions on punishment.

Lawyer Joseph Giglio began with his submissions, addressing the court on behalf of the family. “The parte civile contend that the only punishment that makes sense in this case is imprisonment for life.”

The strong verdict was beyond the minimum of 6 required by law. “It is a strong message therefore that the jurors have sent,” said Giglio. The law provides the court a choice. “The wording is simple: ‘the court may [not give the maximum sentence]’” This does not mean that the court has to award a lesser punishment. Giglio reminded the judge that the jury had also found Cmelik guilty unanimously on the other heads of indictment.

On the legal front, this meant that the guilty party had to be jailed for life with additional periods of solitary confinement, he said.

“Now the factual reasons…this murder was carried out in a cold blooded fashion. So cold blooded and so treacherous, that he used an expression which we use to express love and empathy – a hug.” The accused even went to the extent of using a hug to murder someone. “In religion classes we would be told that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss…the hug was used to reach his intention.”

“Not only was it cold blooded but it was pre-meditated.” We do not think it was a coincidence that the accused was present…the accused knew that Hugo Chetcuti would or could be in the precinct of the Hugo’s Boutique Hotel. It is our opinion that the accused acted when James Farrugia (Hugo’s head of security) momentarily left the scene to accompany Cheryl Chetcuti…for us this is no coincidence.”

“It is no coincidence that the calling of the name of the victim was done premeditatedly because the accused knew that the victim would react by opening his arms to hug him. It is no coincidence that the accused acted in the way he acted. We have the holster, the strap, the knife. These weren’t items he found in the street.”

“These are all manifestations of brutal premeditation,” Giglio said.

“Will all due respect the accused has not shown one iota of remorse. The family is not interested in Bojan Cmelik’s remorse, but let us try and understand the character of the person in front of us. Everyone can see his behaviour in the trial. We are not interested in his 'sorry'.”

He deserved nothing more than life imprisonment, said the lawyer. Moreover, the murder “happened for no apparent reason whatsoever…the only reason we can see that could possibly lead to carrying out such a cold-blooded treacherous murder…is that he was ‘unjustly dismissed’ from employment.”

“In truth, what makes it even worse is that…there was a breach of the trust of Hugo Chetcuti. Of the chances he gave him.”

“The accused had stolen a father, husband, son, brother, a grandfather and also took away a friend to many.”

“This person was allowed in our country, given employment in our country and given chances in our country, but chose to for the most trivial of reasons to kill”

He reminded the judge that the victim was a citizen of Malta and the State had a duty to send a clear message that “such actions are absolutely unacceptable and punishable only with that of life imprisonment.”

Prosecuting lawyer Kevin Valletta, from the Office of the Attorney General said the message of the jury was strong and that he was in agreement with the reasoning of Dr Giglio. “What we have here, what is the message that we need to put forward? A person stabbing another, in public, premeditating his actions. He didn’t even hesitate when he was arrested to try and use the knife, utterly unacceptable in a civil society.” It showed his reckless indifference and lack of remorse, said Valletta, saying that it could be said that Cmelik had acted “even with pride.”

Cmelik’s past convictions were also mentioned for the first time in the trial.

Lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace, legal aid lawyer for the defendant, said that the law begins with the premise of life imprisonment but allows the court the option to apply a custodial sentence below the maximum. “The law does this since there are situations which warrant that life imprisonment be not afforded. The other sign of the coin is the issue of seclusion which needs to be interpreted differently to that proposed by my colleagues.”

He said that the defence believed that the court, may in respect of the dissenting juror, give a period of imprisonment which is not life imprisonment. Some of the arguments made by the prosecution were ‘factually emotional and possibly factually incorrect,’ he said, but said that the court cannot re-evaluate the facts in order to fit a possible life imprisonment sentence, referring to the issue of motive. “The issue of motive is not part of the process before the jury and should not be part of the process when the court is deciding on life imprisonment and seclusion.”

Neither was premeditation proven, argued the lawyer.

“Life imprisonment should not be awarded primarily because of the juror who disagreed with his peers,“ concluded the lawyer.

Lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace was legal aid defence counsel.

Lawyers Joe Giglio and Mario Spiteri appeared on behalf of the Chetcuti family. Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Maria Francesca Spiteri from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted.