Two cleared of 2019 Paceville armed robbery attempt due to lack of evidence

Two men have been cleared of all charges relating to a violent robbery in Paceville in which a firearm was allegedly used after the court said it found the evidence insufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt

Two men have been cleared of all charges relating to a violent robbery in Paceville in which a firearm was allegedly used after the court said it found the evidence insufficient to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tyson Grech, 26, from Senglea and Shamison Stafrace, 24, from Cospicua had been accused of attempting to violently mug a couple in St. Julians in April 2019, using a weapon to commit the crime, slightly injuring them, attacking them, breaching the peace and being drunk and unable to take care of themselves in a public place.

Grech alone was accused of carrying a firearm or ammunition in public without a licence, keeping the weapon in his possession without informing the Commissioner of Police and disobeying legitimate orders. Meanwhile, Stafrace alone was also accused of cocaine possession, recidivism and committing a crime during the operative period of a suspended sentence.

Magistrate Simone Grech had heard police officers testify to how Tyson Grech had been arrested in Paceville at 5:15am on the morning of April  14, 2019.

The victims had told the police that they had been approached by three men outside Havana. The three men demanded cash, and one of them pulled out a pistol and brandished it in their faces. When they told the robbers that they had no money, one of the criminals had declared that they were going to take their motorcycle. A commotion erupted, and the victims had called out to police officers who were nearby, who chased the assailants and arrested Grech as he ran away. Grech was seen to throw an object away during the chase, the court was told. A BB gun magazine was found in the area, sometime later, after a search.

The accused had told the arresting officers that he had been carrying a BB gun which he had thrown away when he was running away. 7 BBs compatible with the weapon was found on his person, with the man insisting with the police that he had no weapons in his possession, the inspector had said.

At around 6:15am that same morning, whilst the victims had been filing their report with the police, Shamison Stafrace had also gone to the police station to check on what had happened to Grech as well as to be given back his ID card and was immediately recognised by the victims and arrested.

Stafrace had released a statement to the police, denying that he had any weapons or that he and Grech had been trying to steal. Instead, he told investigators that after he had seen a fight break out, he had grabbed a crash helmet and started hitting people indiscriminately. He also told the police that he had taken two lines of coke that day. He did not sign his statement.

Stafrace requested medical assistance and had been taken to a clinic, which referred him to Mount Carmel Hospital. He was re-arrested after his release.

Grech and Stafrace were subsequently arraigned in court. Four previous convictions relating to Stafrace were exhibited.

No fingerprints were found on the magazine which was picked up at the scene, but Grech had mentioned to the arresting officers that a BB gun was involved.

A probation officer had told the court that Stafrace had subsequently been enrolled in a residential drug rehabilitation program and had registered significant progress, but the court was also told by a prison coordinator that the accused had tested positive for cannabis. Stafrace was facing several family and social problems at the time, the court was told.

Evaluating the evidence before her, the magistrate noted from the outset that the alleged victims had not been summoned to testify by the prosecution. “It was these two persons who could have confirmed under oath what had allegedly happened on 14 April 2019. Despite this, these crucial witnesses were not summoned. Neither were other eyewitnesses who were present during this alleged incident. The prosecution also failed to exhibit CCTV footage from outside the Havana establishment where the alleged incident took place.”

The only people summoned were police officers who involved themselves after the alleged incident took place, said the court, also pointing out that no medical certificates relating to the injuries suffered by the alleged victims or the doctors who had treated them were brought before the court.

Neither were witnesses brought to confirm the use of the firearm or imitation thereof during the alleged robbery, noted the magistrate, nor was any evidence tendered to support the charge of breaching the peace during the nighttime. With respect to this charge, the court also pointed out that the alleged offences had taken place in Paceville, which was “a place wherein and of itself people’s repose would be disturbed by the noise and shouting coming from various establishments and the persons who frequent them.”

At no point had the prosecution shown that Grech or Stafrace were drunk, other than the accused themselves mentioning having consumed some alcohol, in their statements.

With regards to the weapons charges against Grech, the court highlighted the fact that only a type of magazine had been found and not the weapon it allegedly belonged to. The accused’s fingerprints had also not been found on the magazine, about which the court said it was not even clear as to whether it belonged to an actual firearm or an imitation weapon. No forensic or ballistic experts had been summoned to testify as to whether the exhibits were BBs used as ammunition for such a weapon.

The court also observed that no evidence had been exhibited about any drugs being found on Stafrace’s person or that he had tested positive for an illicit substance at the time of the incident. “All the prosecution has exhibited in this regard is an unsigned statement in which he insists that “I might have taken a couple of coke, but I don’t know.” In the same statement, he goes on to say, “I am not sure, I don’t know, I don’t believe I took any.”

Whilst other witnesses had testified to Stafrace’s drug abuse, his statement did not convince the court that the charge had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, the magistrate also pointed out that with regards to the sentences exhibited, she had not been shown any evidence about whether or not appeals had been filed. Therefore the accused could also not be found guilty of Qrecidivism.

For these reasons, the magistrate declared the two men innocent of all charges made against them individually as well as jointly.

Lawyer Jason Grima appeared for Grech. Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb appeared for Stafrace.