Suspended sentence for woman who locked up, exploited mentally disabled housemate

Accused locked up mentally disabled housemate, forcing her to work up to 17 hours a day in horrific conditions, over a nine-year period

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

The upsetting case of Anna Maria Jimenez from Birzebbugia who, over a nine-year period, locked away a mentally disabled woman in her house, forcing her to work for up to 17 hours a day in horrific, unsanitary conditions which she shared with two dogs, has ended with the woman being handed a suspended sentence.

The 39-year-old Maltese woman, who had been employed as a cleaner at Mater Dei Hospital, had been charged with unlawful imprisonment in 2016, after a police constable noticed an unbearable stench whilst accompanying Jimenez on a trip home to pick up belongings before being returned to prison, where she had been serving a -year sentence for living off the earnings of a 15 year-old whom she had forced into prostitution.

Police had discovered that the victim, then aged 39, would be locked in a tiny room, described in court as “a room with a bed, not a bedroom” together with two dogs, from 10pm till 3pm the next day. Jimenez would give her Playmobil doll parts to assemble during her time in the room so they could be sold on to the factory, the court had been told during Jimenez’s arraignment in 2015.

Jimenez’s victim had been held in squalid conditions, surrounded with dog faeces and forced to use a bucket as a lavatory.

The victim, who is intellectually impaired, told the police that they had lived together “for about nine years.” She said she was thankful for the Playmobil parts as it gave her something to do in her hours of solitary confinement, said the inspector.

During their investigation, it was found the accused had allegedly cashed the victim’s unemployment relief and disability allowance cheques, pocketing the money herself, the court had been told.

The victim later testified, telling the court how she would have water instead of breakfast every day and would be ordered to walk the dogs around the block and then return home immediately. Afterwards she would be locked up in her room for the rest of the day, with the accused threatening not to feed her the one daily meal she would be given, if she did not meet her daily quota of 2000 Playmobil figurines.

She told the court that she would never receive any money for building the figurines and would cash her unemployment benefits cheque together with Jimenez, who would then take the money.

This account had been confirmed in court by another woman who claimed to have had her life similarly controlled by the accused, before they had finally built up the courage to open up about the abuse and were taken into sheltered accommodation.

The women had never escaped as Jimenez would follow them in the brief periods when they were allowed outside.

Social workers from Appogg confirmed that one of the victims had later also filed a report with the agency.

A Playmobil representative testified that Jimenez was registered with the company and would receive the parts for 2000 figurines a day. He also exhibited documents showing that Jimenez would be paid for the work.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit observed that no evidence as to whether the woman had been questioned without her lawyer present had been exhibited, noting that “for some reason the prosecuting officer had not testified in these proceedings and the defence had never asked for this issue to be clarified.”

“In criminal proceedings, there should be clear and incontrovertible evidence of that which is being alleged,” said the court, before examining landmark judgments of the European Court and the Court of Appeal on the issue of systematic shortcomings which affected fair trial rights.

The accused had refused to consult with a lawyer before interrogation and had answered all the questions put to her “with a certain ease” said the magistrate, also noting that she had opted to sign her statement.

The account given in the accused’s statement fit perfectly together with those given by the two victims, noted the court, refusing to expunge it from the acts of the proceedings.

The court said it believed the victims’ testimonies and that Jimenez would lock them up every day for hours at a time in a precarious state of hygiene. The fact that one was occasionally allowed to walk the dog or go shopping “changed nothing,” ruled the magistrate, observing that the women were afraid of the accused.

The charge of bodily harm was not proven, as no medical certificate attesting to any injuries had been exhibited.

The court then proceeded to sentence Jimenez to two years imprisonment, suspended for three years, also ordering her to pay €301 in costs.

Roberta Bonello Felice was defence lawyer.