Drug money was the motive behind fatal 2010 robbery, judge told

Trial begins for woman indicted for complicity in the 2010 aggravated theft that led to the death of 80-year-old Rose Garroni

An alleged plan to obtain money for drugs by stealing an elderly woman’s handbag, which led to her death after she was pulled to the ground, hitting her head and fracturing her skull, is a central issue as the trial of a woman accused of participating in the fatal robbery began before Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja on Tuesday.

Bernice Camilleri, today 32 years of age, from Qawra, is indicted for complicity in the 2010 aggravated theft which led to the death of 80-year-old Rose Garroni, together with five other heads of indictment.

Garroni died in hospital in December 2010, as a result of an internal haemorrhage caused by her fall. Garroni had also suffered fractures to her pelvis and leg. 

Camileri had been acting together with two men, Charles Brincat and Richard Attard, both of whom had been jailed after admitting their guilt to avoid a trial. They received prison sentences of 13 and 12 years, respectively.

Brincat had assaulted the victim, whilst Attard and Camilleri had remained in the getaway car.

Several police witnesses testified today, including the investigators. The fatal incident and another similar snatch and grab theft had taken place in the space of around 2 hours, at Dingli Circus, in Sliema.

Police inspector Anna Maria Micallef gave an outline of the incident to the judge. Garroni had been walking in front of Nelson Apartments at around 7:15pm when the robbers struck. The woman had resisted her assailant, who pushed her back onto the pavement, where she hit her head and lost consciousness. While the victim was unconscious, the aggressor took her handbag and ran towards a waiting Fiat Uno. The three thieves drove to Cospicua where they bought cocaine with the €20 that had been in Garrone’s handbag.

It was the victim’s husband who found Garrone lying in a pool of blood, her condition critical, she said. 

After taking the cocaine and after Charles Brincat had consumed a bottle of wine, the three thieves had driven to Sliema to carry out the second part of their plan. That same evening, at 8:15pm, another woman, 88 year-old Maria Cassar, had been crossing Manwel Dimech street when a man grabbed her handbag and escaped in a waiting car. Cassar was found suffering from shock and to have suffered an injured shoulder. The thieves found €25 in the stolen handbag, which they also used to buy drugs.

The inspector testified that Charles Brincat later felt remorse and had contacted the police, who later questioned him at Mount Carmel Hospital, where he was being treated for alcoholism. Brincat was taken to the crime scenes, but he had failed to recognise certain areas as he was still under the effects of the alcohol and cocaine.

Attard and Camilleri had been in a relationship and lived together in an apartment in Gzira.

They had picked up Brincat from the mental hospital on 8 December 2010 to take him out for a drive in their Fiat Uno. At a point they had bought a bottle of wine, which Attard consumed alone. The three friends had started to chat, complaining about being broke, she said. Charles Brincat had come up with the idea of stealing, the court was told. Attard told him he would take him wherever he wanted, but that he would not get out of the car.

After the first robbery, the thieves had noticed a set of keys in one of the handbags and had initially considered using them to gain access to her apartment and steal some more, but had later thrown them away in a skip in Marsa.

Brincat told the police that the men had injected the cocaine, while Camilleri had insufflated the drug, before they went to commit the second robbery.

Chris Pullicino, a former police inspector, also testified, confirming Inspector Micallef’s version. He added that the Commissioner of Police at the time, John Rizzo, had received an anonymous letter continuing the victim’s ID card. The letter stated that at 9:40pm on December 8, the ID card had been thrown out of a Fiat Uno driving along Mdina Road towards Valletta.

After Brincat contacted the police, Pullicino, who worked with the police homicide squad had obtained permission from Brincat’s psychiatrist to take him to the Police Headquarters and interrogate him. Brincat was compliant during his interrogation and had given many important pieces of information which had led to charges against the other two accomplices.

The court also heard evidence from eyewitnesses to the robbery, including that of the man who found the victim on her back in a pool of blood, still clutching the broken strap of her stolen handbag. He had no mobile phone at the time and so had approached the driver.

Lawyers Arthrur Azzopardi and Rebecca Merceica are defence counsel to Bernice Camilleri. 

Lawyers Anthony Vella and Karl Muscat, from the Office of the Attorney General, are prosecuting. 

The trial continues.