Mobile phone signal, CCTV led investigators to Qormi murder suspect

Court hears details of how investigators used mobile phone signals and CCTV footage to identify suspect in Qormi valley murder

Mario Farrugia (left) was found murdered inside the trunk of his Peugeot 407 (right), which was found in Qormi valley. The brown marks have been confirmed to be blood.
Mario Farrugia (left) was found murdered inside the trunk of his Peugeot 407 (right), which was found in Qormi valley. The brown marks have been confirmed to be blood.

Mobile phone signal triangulation had led investigators into the murder of Mario Farrugia to zero in on Eliott Paul Busuttil, a court-appointed expert has testified.

Busuttil, 38, stands accused of Farrugia’s murder, after the 62-year-old’s body was discovered inside the trunk of his own car in a Qormi valley on 5 April.

A court-appointed IT expert took the stand before Magistrate Astrid May Grima this morning, to submit his report as the compilation of evidence against Busuttil continued.

READ ALSO: Lead suspect and accomplice in Mario Farrugia murder already facing attempted homicide charges

He had been appointed by the inquiring magistrate to carry out several tasks, which included the extraction of data from several devices, examination of CCTV footage and establishing the location of various mobile phones by triangulation. 

CCTV footage from 36 cameras located in Attard, Marsa and Qormi had been examined as part of the investigation, he said, pointing out that his task had been rendered more difficult by the fact that it had started 8 days after the murder.

Investigators had started with just a description of a white Peugeot 407 being seen in the area. From a painstaking analysis of the CCTV footage it was noted that Busuttil was consistently showing up. A number of speeding tickets issued during the night of the murder also pointed to his vehicle, added the court expert.

Triangulation of 30 suspect numbers

In addition to this, investigators had carried out an exercise of triangulating the activity of over 30 numbers belonging to suspects. This process took days to complete, explained the witness, but the hard work eventually paid off in the form of an accurate timeline of the route taken by the car, which was noted being driven around a lot during the night on which the murder took place.

The court expert had also attended police raids both on the accused’s residence as well as on other properties thought to be involved, so as to preserve the evidence. The mobile phone bearing the number triangulated at the scene was found in the possession of the accused, he said.

With regards to digital evidence, he said no less than 21 devices and 18 SIM cards were examined during the investigation.

The court expert explained that he had used what is known as a “rainbow attack” to bypass the screen lock on the accused’s mobile phone. A 402-page report was compiled from the examination of the various devices.

Blood dripping from car

After the expert had concluded his testimony, the court heard a group of four police officers from the force’s forensic section jointly exhibit their report. They had gone to the scene where the body was found and observed blood dripping from the car and in the surrounding area, the court was told.

 The officers explained that the car was then opened up and red stains, thought to be blood, were noted on the passenger seat.  The victim’s body was photographed in situ before being taken out to be examined by other experts. The car was taken to the forensic yard.

On 7 April, the officers had attended and documented the autopsy carried out on the body recovered from the boot. The victim’s clothing was sent for DNA analysis, together with an evidence bag containing a number of knives recovered by the police during the investigation.

Inspector Wayne Camilleri informed the court that there were many prosecution witnesses who are yet to testify in this compilation of evidence.

The court adjourned the sitting to 20 September.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila are defence counsel to Busuttil.

Inspector Wayne Camilleri prosecuted, assisted by lawyers Kaylie Bonnett and Maria Schembri from the Attorney General’s office.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri are representing the victim's family in the proceedings.