Paulina Dembska killer raped victim after murdering her

Trigger warning: this post contains graphic details of murder and rape • The man accused of murdering Polish student Paulina Dembska told police that the devil "gave him a plan" requiring two more murders

Accused Abner Aquilina (centre) is flanked by two police officers as he is driven to the law courts in Valletta to face charges of murder and rape (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Accused Abner Aquilina (centre) is flanked by two police officers as he is driven to the law courts in Valletta to face charges of murder and rape (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

A court has been told that although the man accused of the murder of Polish student Paulina Dembska had told the police that the devil had “given him a plan” requiring two more murders, he had only started mentioning supernatural forces when he felt cornered.

Murder victim Paulina Dembska’s parents were present in court today, as Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia declared that the court had seen sufficient evidence for Aquilina to be indicted.

The court heard evidence and submissions on whether the court should accept the results of a psychiatric evaluation which concluded that her killer had been insane at the time of the murder.

In the previous sitting in the compilation of evidence in June, the court heard a team of court-appointed psychiatrists testify that in their opinion, Abner Aquilina was unfit to testify. His defence lawyer is arguing that the 20-year-old had been in a psychotic state when he strangled Dembska, a 29-year-old student from Poland, to death on January 2 this year.

Aquilina had been arrested shortly after the murder took place, by police responding to reports of a man causing a disturbance during a mass at the Balluta parish church.

He had confessed to the murder soon after his arrest, telling the police his mind was a "cooker" and that he received "frequencies" and that "the great one illuminates me." 

The court was told that the victim’s body showed injuries compatible with several blows to the head and chest, with her autopsy revealing that she had been raped and strangled.

Inspectors Wayne Camilleri and Shawn Pawney testified today, both of them telling magistrate Marseanne Farrugia that Aquilina had shown signs of discomfort when confronted with pictures of the victim’s remains.

"We showed him pictures of the body [during interrogation]. He was visibly very uncomfortable and avoided eye contact, lifting his shirt over his head," inspector Camilleri said.

He added that after the recording of the interview had been stopped, Aquilina had quipped that he was “close to confessing back there”. This part was not recorded.

Aquilina was also highly uncomfortable when he was shown footage from police officers’ body cams, repeatedly lifting his t-shirt over his head to avoid seeing it. 

After the interrogation, Aquilina had gone up to the inspector and another officer and remarked: "Well done. Good effort A++. I was close to confessing back there.”

Inspector Pawney said that he had participated in two of the six interviews conducted with the accused. During an early session, Aquilina had started to run around the room and fallen to the ground, but this had stopped after the police told the suspect that they were not impressed by his acting and the behaviour had never recurred. “The mention of spirits and magnets only came up when Aquilina felt cornered during questioning,” the inspector told the court.

Aquilina had in fact quoted films and pop culture in what was taken to be a bid to impress his interrogators, said the inspector. “He had said that A Clockwork Orange contained many parallels to his life. But most of the time he was interacting normally with us,” he said. 

"He was recalling a lot of details, but whenever the topic of conversation came to the murders, he would start mentioning spirits and magnets and so on."

The court was also told of the external lacerations to the victim's genital area. "The lacerations were abnormal in shape, not what you'd expect. They were long. They were somewhat mutilated," said the inspector.

Inspector Pawney testified that Aquilina had told the police that he had killed Dembska and then raped her. He had said he hadn’t initially wanted to murder her, but had decided to when she had started to resist.

13:21 Thanks for following today's sitting with us. We will update this space with longer write-up shortly. Nicole Meilak
13:20 Magistrate Farrugia decrees that the court has seen sufficient prima facie evidence to justify the accused being placed under a bill of indictment. The sitting stops there, with the next session slated for 2 September at 10am. Nicole Meilak
13:17 Mifsud confronted the witness, to rebuke his nurse for sending an email regarding the mental health of his client. The psychiatrist said this was a breach of usual procedure and the staff member in question had been disciplined.

Dr. Cutajar steps off the stand. The court asked him to inform the staff at Mater Dei that confidential medical information is not to be circulated by email.
Nicole Meilak
13:17 Psychiatrist Hector Cutajar, who works at Mount Carmel Hospital, is called to the stand. The court asks whether he knew Aquilina and why he did not attend today's sitting. He had examined the accused yesterday to establish whether he was fit to appear in court. He was deemed unfit, and his report was processed in the usual manner. The court noted that it would have been helpful if the report arrived earlier. Nicole Meilak
13:12 The lawyer asked why the police had asked Aquilina why he had cut the victim with his keys, when they hadn't yet received confirmation from medical experts. There was blood on the key as well. Filletti retorted that it was not exactly rare in homicides and rapes to find blood on items.

Mifsud suggested that Aquilina's interrogation had not been as flowing as described by the inspectors, but had been in fits and starts. The court ruled that the issue would be settled when the transcript of the interrogation was exhibited.
Nicole Meilak
13:04 Cross-examined by Mario Mifsud, the inspector was asked about whether Aquilina was told that he was a suspect and given his rights at the time of his arrest.

"Was I also being recorded when I was talking to the police and doctors? I was never informed of this?"

The witness replied that he did not think this was the case.
Nicole Meilak
13:02 Aquilina had also been confronted with pictures of the horrific external lacerations to the victim's genital area. "The lacerations were abnormal in shape, not what you'd expect. They were long. They were somewhat mutilated, " said the inspector.

Aquilina had told the police that he had killed her and then raped her. He had said he didn’t want to murder her, but then she had started to resist.
Nicole Meilak
13:00 Filletti asked the inspector whether he had been present for questioning when Aquilina was asked whether he felt remorse. "His remorse was more for the fact that he was caught....The bodycam footage shows him saying that he knew what he was getting into."

Filletti suggested that A Clockwork Orange was about a person who enjoyed violence and rape. "We watched the film. I don't know in what way he identified with it, but he said he did."
Nicole Meilak
13:00 "In truth when we mentioned the stories given by other women, he laughed. The stories were not nice." Nicole Meilak
13:00 Filletti begins his cross-examination of the Inspector. He asked whether he could communicate with Aquilina and whether his replies made sense. Inspector Pawney replied in the affirmative, saying that the episodes of strange behaviour coincided with direct questions about the murder

"We explained to the accused that the footage was going to be seen in court and that as he had been certified as fit for interrogation, he was doing this for nothing. "
Nicole Meilak
12:45 The inspector said that a Colombian man had been accompanying the accused for most of the night, with phone location data showing that they had been together up till 15 minutes before the murder, parting ways in front of the Marriott Hotel. He exhibited a report containing a timeline of the movements of both accused and victim, as established through CCTV and phone data. Nicole Meilak
12:38 There was no connection between the victim and the accused. It is clear. He was telling the truth when he said he didn't know her, but he later described her appearance.

Aquilina started quoting films and pop culture in a bid to impress his interrogators, said the inspector. He had said that A Clockwork Orange contained many parallels to his life. But most of the time he was interacting normally with them, he said.
Nicole Meilak
12:35 One of the men that Aquilina had propositioned for sex told the police that it had happened just 50 to 60 metres from the place where Dembska was murdered. Nicole Meilak
12:33 A girl had approached the police to say that in November 2020, she had been harassed on Instagram by the accused, who sent her a picture of a his semen on a tissue. When confronted with this during questioning, the accused had started laughing. Another girl said that she had been in a relationship with the accused and had contracted an STD in 2021. Aquilina had accused her of sleeping around. Nicole Meilak
12:31 Mario Mifsud interrupts the witness, telling him that he is reading not testifying. Opposing counsel object to the interruption, telling the lawyer that the witness is referring to his notes which he would be exhibiting after finishing his testimony.

At one point, Aquilina started shouting that he wanted to use the toilet and started to break wind loudly and laugh. This was all captured on video, said the inspector.
Nicole Meilak
12:27 Pawney had participated in two interrogation sessions, he said. During an early session, Aquilina had run around the room, and fallen to the ground, but this had stopped after the police told the suspect that they were not impressed by his acting. The mention of spirits and magnets only came up when Aquilina felt cornered during questioning, said the inspector.

"He was recalling a lot of details, but whenever the topic of conversation came to the murders, he would start mentioning spirits and magnets and so on."
Nicole Meilak
12:24 Aquilina had initially tried to escape from the police but was unsuccessful. He later apologised and said he had been afraid at the time. The witness also told the court that the accused had mentioned the interference of "spirits and magnets" during his questioning. Nicole Meilak
12:20 The inspector is listing the witnesses who had been questioned by the police during the investigation. One said he had been walking together with his wife when he saw two people having sex at the location where Dembska was murdered. At first he had not been overly concerned, but had then approached the police at the insistence of his wife. He gave them a description of the man's clothing. Nicole Meilak
12:17 Pawney said he had been informed about the Balluta church incident and had been told that Aquilina had been spoken to first in connection to that incident and later about the murder, after more information came in. He had also questioned staff at the hostel where Dembska was staying, as well as the staff at the health centre. Nicole Meilak
12:10 The sitting resumes. Inspector Shawn Pawney takes the stand. He had been on duty on the night when the report came in that a body had been found at the Independence Gardens in Sliema. Nicole Meilak
12:10 A key piece of information from the sitting was that Aquilina killed Dembska “because she resisted” him, even admitting that he killed her before raping her. Nicole Meilak
11:56 Some key points from today’s sitting:

• Aquilina told police that the devil gave him a plan that required him to kill two other people

• Aquilina had moved in with a friend from River of Love three days before the murder

• Police said Aquilina pretended to be insane during the first minutes of the first interrogation, but his behaviour eventually became and remained normal
Nicole Meilak
11:50 The court will be taking a five minute break. Nicole Meilak
11:49 The lawyer suggested that the accused had asked the police to stop showing him the disturbing pictures of the victim's body. He had, confirmed the inspector. Nicole Meilak
11:47 "Is it true that you told him that you knew everything already and told his lawyer to stop interrupting or you would arrest him too?" asked Mifsud, half in jest. The inspector confirmed that this was true. Nicole Meilak
11:43 Mifsud asked whether the police had given Aquilina all of his rights. Aquilina was given his rights after confessing to the murder, but had continued to repeat his admission after his rights were read to him. The accused's rights were given to him verbally at first, but recorded on bodycam. The written version came later. Nicole Meilak
11:41 Mifsud asked why the police had interrogated Aquilina before giving him his rights and hadn't asked for a psychiatrist. Aquilina was not a suspect at the time, said the inspector. The bodycams were there to protect the police said the officers, not to entrap people, said Inspector Camilleri. Nicole Meilak
11:39 Mifsud alleged that the police had used their bodycams to entrap the accused. Inspector Camilleri denied this, saying that bodycams were used as per procedure. Aquilina had volunteered the information. "We didn't know he was going to say what he said." Nicole Meilak
11:38 Mifsud asked whether Aquilina was aggressive or violent towards the police when he arrived at the clinic. "When I arrived he looked a bit agitated and was pacing around. I approached him and spoke to him.... I had been told that he had caused a disturbance before but didn't see it." Nicole Meilak
11:35 Cross-examined by defence lawyer Mario Mifsud, Camilleri was asked why he went to the Floriana clinic to meet Inspector Ransley. "Do you usually investigate people blaspheming in church?"

"We were still at the stage of evaluating everything. We went because he was arrested in Balluta Church a few metres away from the murder scene and was saying things which could be relevant."
Nicole Meilak
11:32 "We showed him pictures of the body. He looked very uncomfortable and avoided eye contact, lifting his shirt over his head."

After the tape was stopped, Aquilina said “I was close to confessing back there”. This part was not recorded.
Nicole Meilak
11:31 Filletti asked whether Aquilina had been asked whether he felt remorse.

"Yes. He made it clear to us several times that he knew right from wrong. He didn't want to say whether he felt remorse, but insisted that he went to the church afterwards. Bodycam footage shows him telling us that he didn't want to do what he did and didn't want to hurt her."
Nicole Meilak
11:31 Inspector Camilleri exhibits recordings of Aquilina's questioning sessions to the court. Parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti cross-examines the inspector, asking about the accused's behaviour during interrogation. He was conversing with the police, said the inspector.

During the first minute of the first interrogation, Aquilina had pretended to be insane, but after the investigating police inspectors told him they weren't going to play this game because they had a certificate that he was fit for interrogation, his behaviour became normal and remained so for the rest of the interrogation.
Nicole Meilak
11:23 He initially claimed that he did not recognise the victim. "He was very uncomfortable seeing the photos. Then he said he was receiving some frequencies which were affecting him."

Aquilina was also highly uncomfortable when he was shown bodycam footage, to the extent that he was lifting his t-shirt over his head to avoid seeing it. Aquilina said that magnets had something to do with the murder

After the interrogation, Aquilina went up to the inspector and another officer and said "Well done. Good effort A++. I was close to confessing back there."
Nicole Meilak
11:20 With regards to the incident, he said he had parked his motorcycle in the hotel car park. He spotted two men and asked them where they were going. They ignored him, so he put his keys between his fingers and balled a fist. The men ran away, he said. Nicole Meilak
11:18 Aquilina was interrogated six times at the CID offices, said the inspector. His lawyer, Mario Mifsud, was present for every interrogation. The inspector said that from the interrogation it emerged that Aquilina is bisexual and that he said it was easier to have sex with men than women. He had been sexually abused at 14 and he felt sorry for his abuser as he ended up in prison. Nicole Meilak
11:15 A Colombian man was seen leaving the hostel with the victim and had walked some distance with her before they parted ways. He had been questioned and confirmed this.

Aquilina's mother had been questioned and told the police that her son identified with the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, saying that he too had been sexually abused in childhood.
Nicole Meilak
11:13 The last CCTV camera to capture Dembska walking was not far from the scene of the murder. The footage also showed that Aquilina had been using his motorcycle and parked it at the Marriott Hotel, before walking along the promenade towards Sliema. He had chased two men near Peppi's kiosk, but they managed to escape. Nicole Meilak
11:10 Inspector Camilleri had also attended the autopsy. Dembska had been asphyxiated, but had also suffered several broken ribs and facial bruising, he said. The victim had also suffered internal injuries to her private parts and it appeared that she had been sexually abused with a sharp and pointed object. Pathologists would give more details on this, he said. Nicole Meilak
11:07 Police were also approached by a man who had chanced upon Aquilina doing what he thought were push ups. Then he noticed a pair of legs underneath him. It was a regular spot for such encounters, the jogger had said. Nicole Meilak
11:04 Police located Aquilina's motorcycle in a hotel parking area. Blood stains were seen on the handlebars. After forensic officers inspected it, it was towed to Police HQ.

Officers also spoke to Aquilina's mother. She told the police that her son had used drugs and would gamble. Abner had moved in with a friend from River of Love three days before, she said. On the night of the murder she was woken up at night to the sounds of Aquilina hurriedly packing clothes in a suitcase, said the inspector.
Nicole Meilak
11:02 At 10:36 Abner said "they are telling me to kill two other people.... He told me to give her my sperm, but I defied him because I didn't ejaculate inside her". Aquilina said the plan required two other people to be killed. Nicole Meilak
11:00 Whilst at police depot, Aquilina had been captured on police bodycam spontaneously saying that he had done a very bad thing. The footage shows that, at that point, Aquilina was given his rights again and asked whether he wanted to speak to a lawyer. This time he did, and asked for Mario Mifsud. Nicole Meilak
10:58 Aquilina said he had suffered a great deal, and that his life was like the film A Clockwork Orange. The inspector gave Aquilina the caution at that point and read him his legal rights, as he arrested him on suspicion of murder. Nicole Meilak
10:57 He added that he raped a girl who was wearing a hood of the same brand as that found on the body. He had killed her because she resisted, he said. "We asked him how he killed her. He made gestures of punching and kicking". Aquilina asked the police, “do you think I’ll get away with it?”. Nicole Meilak
10:55 Police spoke to Aquilina and the conversation was recorded on a body camera. "It was a one-time thing. I only carried out 33% of the plan," he told police. Asked what plan this was, he said the devil had given him a plan to carry out. Aquilina had described the victim, saying she looked Maltese, wearing a white jacket. He didn't want to see her again, he said. Nicole Meilak
10:52 Inspector Camilleri said that he had seen Inspector Johnathan Ransely receive a call from the St. Julian's police station whilst still at the scene. He said the call was important.

It was an orderly reporting that a certain Abner George Aquilina had broken items inside Balluta church, said the Inspector. Aquilina had asked the priest to "declare that he was not insane and to obtain some form of presidential pardon for him". He had also threatened staff at the Floriana Health Centre, warning that there will be "another two victims".
Nicole Meilak
10:50 Inspector Wayne Camilleri takes the witness stand, recounting how police had received a report that an unclothed female body had been discovered, face up, at Independence Garden in Sliema. She was found exactly in the entrance slope of the garden. "Her face was purple. It was clear that she had received several blows to the face."

"At this stage the victim was not yet identified, but my colleague and I could see that she had documents in her pocket." The officers decided to inspect the documents - a Polish ID card and a credit card. From there they established the name and age of the victim.
Nicole Meilak
10:48 Stefano Filletti, appearing parte civile for the Dembska family, argued that the emails could be relevant and should be added to the medical file in the court. The magistrate said she wasn't surprised at the fact that Aquilina didn't turn up, but had expected to be notified beforehand. She added that the email sent by a senior nurse is "neither here nor there". Filetti said it could be relevant during the insanity trial, asking that the email be included in the medical file. Nicole Meilak
10:46 The magistrate ordered that psychiatrist Dr. Hector Cutajar, the psychiatrist who sent an email to the prosecution on Aquilina’s conditions, be summoned to declare that the accused was not fit to attend court. Nicole Meilak
10:45 Mifsud called for an investigation into how the staff shared confidential medical information to the police without consent of the defence. They should have contacted the defence and the court. Medical certificates are never sent to the prosecuting officer.

“I was not officially informed. I was told by the parents of the accused.”
Nicole Meilak
10:42 Camilleri said two emails were received yesterday, the first at 1:32pm from a Senior Staff Nurse at Mount Carmel Hospital’s Seclusion Unit. “Currently Aquilina is a patient in seclusion ward. Tomorrow at 10am… Aquilina is claiming that he is either…”

Defence counsel Mario Mifsud interrupted, objecting that the media was present.
Nicole Meilak
10:39 Aquilina himself will not be attending the sitting, in line with the findings of the psychiatrists. Inspector Wayne Camilleri confirmed that when contacted, staff at MCH had said that the accused was not able to attend. Nicole Meilak
10:38 Good morning. Our court reporter Matthew Agius is live from the courtroom as we continue hearing the compilation of evidence against Abner Aquilina. He is accused of raping and murdering Paulina Dembska, who was found dead in Sliema on January 2. Nicole Meilak