Teen recounts foster father's death threat: 'You have a minute before I kill them and myself'

The accused threatened to shoot three children during an Easter Sunday row with his ex-partner

A 15-year-old girl has described how the man who brought her up as her father, armed with a handgun, had cornered her and her cousin as they hid from him in a separate apartment, before calling up her mother, telling her “you have a minute before I kill them and myself.”

The girl testified before Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo via video link this afternoon, as proceedings continued against her foster father, who stands accused of holding three young girls against their will on Easter Sunday amongst other charges.

Before allowing the child to testify, the magistrate explained to her that she had a legal right not to give evidence, because the accused was her father. The witness, however, said she wanted to testify.

Her parents had been fighting more than usual in the past couple of months, she said. The couple were going through separation proceedings at the moment and would often argue about custody, who would keep the house and the company they kept, she said.

Her mother had sought the protection of the police before, said the girl. “I found out who my birth father was and [the accused] suspected that I knew. He told me to choose between him and my birth father,” the girl testified, adding that he had given her a short deadline to make the decision. “You have to choose, either me or your father. I will still love you if you choose him,” she recalled the accused as saying.

The girl had told him that she would have to discuss the matter with her psychologist... I said I had an appointment with her on Monday and he told me I had till Monday evening to decide.” 

“Before he spoke to me face to face he had sent me a message…he said I needed to choose ‘either me or your father’.”

But the accused had become angry when he learned that she had been meeting her birth father, and gave her an hour to make the decision. “It was around 10pm or 11pm,” she said. 

The second time that the girl had gone to the Domestic Violence Unit was on Easter Sunday. She had expressed a wish that she meet her birth father, but because the accused suspected that her mother and her birth father were having an affair, the mother was initially reluctant, she explained to the magistrate.

The girl explained that her mother hadn’t told the accused that they were meeting the real father, because she was afraid of him.

“He [the accused] wouldn’t let her go out. So she was afraid to tell him.” On one occasion in the past, the girl claimed that she had been at a party with her friends  when she received a call from her cousin. The cousin had informed her that the accused, who had not been told about her attending the party, had turned violent when he found out and had taken his anger out on the dog, throwing it across the room.

“My cousin told me that he had started saying that he’d kill her [the mother].” When they went home they found a knife sticking in the chopping board and bottles of alcohol, she said.

Her father would become aggressive when he drank, she said, adding that he tended to drink in the evenings. “When he isn’t under the influence, he’s fine. When he drinks he’s not himself.”

After they went home on Easter Sunday, the accused had sent the mother a message demanding to know why she hadn’t informed him.

Then he called the witness and accused her of lying to him and being disrespectful.

The accused went to their house, where the witness had been asleep in her sister’s bedroom. She said that he woke her up and told her “you have to choose, either your dad or me,” before seizing her mobile phone and telling her to get her father to buy one for her. The mother entered the room at the point and the accused ordered her out of the house, the girl said.

Turning to the 15-year-old, he told the girl to call her birth father “and tell him to come here. Let’s see if he has the balls to come.”

Although she hadn’t seen him drinking, her father had been red in the face, leading her to think that he was drunk, the girl explained. Lawyer Franco Debono, defence counsel together with lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, objected to this statement. “Is she a breathalyser now?” he asked the court.

Inspector John Spiteri, prosecuting, asked what had led the girl to think the accused was drunk. “When he isn’t drunk he’s calm and reasonable. When he is drunk you can’t talk to him, he starts shouting,” she replied. 

“He threw my mum out of the house.. he threw me out of the house too. He grabbed me by my hair and slammed my head against a wardrobe. I lost my glasses at that point and then I ran down to the garage.” This happened during the night between Easter Sunday and Monday, explained the girl.

The children, shoeless and still in their pyjamas waited outside in the entrance hall, before running into an alley to hide when they heard the accused opening the front door of the flat to look for them outside.

“He found us and told me and my cousin, he told us ‘go home.’"

He was not carrying the firearm at that time, she said. But after they complied and went home, she saw that the accused was carrying a handgun, which she referred to as a ‘revolver’, in his hands.

“When I heard the front door open, I had a very bad feeling. I saw him coming downstairs with his revolver.” She added that she was aware that the accused also owned hunting shotguns and other firearms.

He told the girls to call their mother, she said.

Inspector Spiteri asked why the girls had obeyed the accused when they saw his behaviour deteriorating and him holding a gun.

“We were afraid he was going to do something,” the girl replied.

“He called up my mother on her mobile and told her ‘you have a minute before I kill them and myself.’” 

The mother had tried to calm the accused down, telling him that she loved him, recalled the girl. “He said he loved her too, but said he was doing what he was doing ‘because of her’ while pointing at me.”

The 15-year-old said he then sent to her bedroom, telling her that he “didn’t even want to look at” her.  When she refused, the accused had slammed the child’s head on a marble surface, and kicked her, she said.

The girl’s 10-year-old sister, who is autistic, had bolted from the flat when she saw RIU officers approaching. “I grabbed her arm and followed her. We met the officers in the stairs and they asked us if my father was armed. I said yes.”

She testified that she knew the accused stored some of his hunting shotguns in his van and that he had gone hunting on Easter Sunday. When she heard the back of the van being opened, she initially thought he was going for his guns, she said. “I was frightened.”

There were other occasions when she had felt frightened of the accused, she said in answer to the police inspector’s questions.

Parte civile lawyer Jason Azzopardi also had questions for the girl, asking her whether she had seen the accused handling any ammunition at any time. “I’m not sure. I’m not going to say yes or no about when he was downstairs. But upstairs he was loading bullets in front of us.” He had loaded the ammunition before calling her mother, she went on.

“He was very very very angry. His face was red,” she repeated.

Cross examined by Franco Debono, the girl explained that Appoġġ had told her that she was not allowed to meet her mother’s new partner alone. “As they explained it to me…until DNA tests ascertained that [the accused] was my father, I wasn’t to meet him alone. I could only meet him with other people present.”

Debono suggeted that the girl’s mother had attacked the accused on Good Friday. “I don’t know, because I went out with my friend that day,” she said. The lawyer asked the court to remind her that she was under oath, drawing an objection from the prosecution.

The lawyer loudly interrupted the inspector as he made the objection, before asking whether the witness had gone to the police with her mother on Good Friday. The girl replied that she didn’t remember.

Debono asked whether the mother and her boyfriend had ever allowed the girl to smoke a vape pen, on a particular occasion, but the question was ruled irrelevant. Visibly angry, Debono said he had no further questions.

Before adjourning the case, the court announced that it will be issuing a decree on bail after the mother testifies on Wednesday.