Bank robber, jailed 30 years over fatal 2000 BOV heist, demands retrial

Bank robber Joseph Zammit, serving 30 years for murder of BOV bank messenger Alphonse Ferrigi in 2000, demands retrial over claimed human rights breaches

The BOV San Gwann branch: the murder of Alphonse Ferriggi had stunned the nation
The BOV San Gwann branch: the murder of Alphonse Ferriggi had stunned the nation

Joseph Zammit, who is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for complicity in the killing of bank messenger Alphonse Ferriggi, 42, during a September 2000 bank robbery, is claiming to have suffered multiple breaches of his fundamental rights during the criminal proceedings against him, starting from his unassisted statement to police all the way to his trial lawyer telling jurors that “some guilt will surely be found” in his closing statement.

A BOV bank messenger, Ferriggi had been shot in the face at point blank range, with a shotgun, outside the San Gwann BOV branch. He had been delivering seven bags of internal bank mail, which the bank robbers had thought contained money. Ferriggi, father of a 12-year-old boy at the time of the murder, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Richard Grech ‘Iz-Zinanna’ and Joseph Zammit were tried for the killing in 2009. Grech was sentenced to life behind bars after the jury found him guilty of murder. The jury also found Joseph Zammit guilty of complicity in the murder, as well as other heads of indictment, including aggravated armed robbery and holding a person against their will. Zammit received a 31-year prison sentence for the crimes.

Zammit had immediately filed an appeal to his sentence. That case was decided two years later, with the Court of Criminal Appeal upholding Zammit’s appeal, but only with regards to one of the 8 heads of indictment that he had been found guilty of. His sentence was reduced by just one year – to 30 years, on appeal.

And that appeared to be that until last week, when his new lawyer, Daniel Attard, filed an application before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction.

In that constitutional application, Attard requested a retrial or the reopening of proceedings, arguing that his illiterate client had not been allowed to consult with a lawyer before he was questioned and, as a result, had released two incriminating statements after a 1am interrogation session at the police HQ. 

The Times of Malta report of 19 September, 2000
The Times of Malta report of 19 September, 2000

The applicant had been so misled about the effects of releasing a statement, said the lawyer, that the statement ends with Zammit telling his interrogator: “I hope I didn’t incriminate myself for nothing.”

Although this practice was legal at the time, the law and the courts’ interpretation of the right to legal assistance have since developed and today that right applies not only when taking statements, but stretches all the way back to the interrogation stage. 

Zammit is also claiming his fair trial rights were breached by the failure to adequately document the chain of custody of the evidence against him. This had led to some of the evidence being exhibited in court by the police and not by an independent forensic expert, he said.

“The only piece of physical evidence exhibited in court which connects the applicant to the prosecution’s version of events is defective for several reasons, including the fact that the DNA sample exhibited does not belong to the applicant, and also due to the fact that established scientific methods were not followed when the evidence was collected,” Zammit’s constitutional application states.

Zammit also took issue with the “passive attitude” adopted by the Criminal Court towards the fact that his defence lawyer at the time had declared Zammit to be guilty, despite the accused maintaining his innocence.

These factors had cumulatively prejudiced Zammit’s constitutional right to a fair trial, argued Attard, asking the court to order a retrial of the case and order the defendants to compensate his client for the human rights breaches which they had caused him to suffer.