Alfred Degiorgio seeks Caruana Galizia murder trial postponement citing 'virulent press campaign'

One of the three men accused of carrying out the 2017 hit on Daphne Caruana Galizia claims he has already been subjected to a 'trial by media'

Alfred Degiorgio has filed two urgent constitutional applications, asking for the postponement of his upcoming trial by jury, in view of what he terms a “bombardment” of stories in local and foreign news which, he claims, have negatively influenced his potential jurors, to his prejudice.

Degiorgio, one of the three men accused of carrying out the 2017 hit on journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, filed the applications today through his lawyer William Cuschieri, before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction this morning, in which he claims to have already been subjected to a “trial by media.”

He argues that on 4 December 2017, the same day of his arrest, video footage of which had later been broadcast, Joseph Muscat. the Prime Minister at the time had held a press conference during which he had declared that the persons arrested during the joint operation involving the police, the armed forces and the security services, were reasonably suspected of having carried out the murder.

“Although he stated that he was being very careful as to what he was saying, there was no doubt that the message was that those who carried out the murder, described as a barbarous act, had been arrested.”

Degiorgio, his brother George and Vince Muscat had been arrainged the next day, charged with the journalist’s murder and have been held in preventive custody since then.

“From that day on, they have been subjected to a bombardment by the media,” said the lawyer. Alfred and George Degiorgio’s mugshots relating to past arrests were published and the brothers had been identified as  “criminals” and “known to the police.”

Soon after the arrests, Joseph Muscat had released a video featuring shots of the murder scene and the Degiorgio’s arrests, together with his message for the new year  - that Malta was not going to bow its head to criminals. That video, which addressed the entire population, had once again implied that the men were guilty, pointed out the lawyer.

Alfred Degiorgio “was being declared guilty in the most unequivocal way, in spite of the fact that he had not yet been processed according to law,” said Cuschieri, going on to state that this was not only the general public’s perception, but also that of the Caruana Galizia family.

“In one article, the words of a relative of the victim were reproduced, declaring that just because the government had declared victory in the murder case, the investigations should not stop there.”

Cuschieri complained that the “bombardment by the media continued and can be said to never have stopped,” with his clients being variously described as “killers”, “criminals”, “notorious”, “gangsters”, “murderous gang”, “brothers in crime”, “hardened criminals”, “assassins” and “hitmen”. 

Coverage of the murder and the subsequent court proceedings by international news outlets had also contributed to the “bombardment.”

“More recently, the plaintiff and his brother, without admitting guilt, had sought a presidential pardon. The Prime Minister publicly declared that they were members of ‘organised criminality’ and that they were criminals using words to the effect that there was a coordinated strategy between organised crime and the Nationalist Party.”  

The application quotes the Prime Minister as having stated that the accused men and the Nationalist Party had “nothing to lose and were trying to buy their freedom at any cost ” and that there was “a clear strategy and synergy between the Nationalist Party and criminality to  help each other out.”

Readers’ comments under online articles about the murder were “without exception” declaring Degiorgio guilty and calling for the maximum punishment to be meted out, said Cuschieri, arguing that this was relevant in a trial in which guilt could only be decided by a jury. There was no option for the trial to be carried out only by a judge, at law.

In this case, every individual chosen to be a juror, definitely not only knows about the case… but had also surely been influenced in the most negative manner against him, said the lawyer, blaming the media for “broadcasting about the case at hand with all their might.” 

The lawyer claimed that the situation was made worse by the fact that the accused had repeatedly been refused bail on the grounds of public disorder. “If the jurors, forming part of the public, who will judge the accused know that the courts said that his release would cause public disorder, how can he ever expect not to be found guilty?”

The application asks the court to provide an interim measure, by which his upcoming trial would be suspended, until a decision on this constitutional complaint is delivered. He also requested the court preemptively declare that his fair trial rights would probably be breached by “the prejudice built up against him” were the trial to go ahead as planned.