Man in 'satanic' sex abuse case jailed for 20 years

Judge finds man in 'satanic' sex abuse case guilty of aggravated rape of a mother, rape of her minor daughter and forcing the family to perform depraved sexual acts

A judge has found a man guilty of manipulating a vulnerable family into performing depraved sex acts by pretending to channel a demon, sentencing him to 20 years in jail and ordering that his name be listed in the sex offenders' register.

The sentence is believed to be the harshest meted out to a sex offender in Maltese legal history.

Over the past five days, Madame justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera had heard several witnesses, including relatives of the accused’s then girlfriend, testify to hearing a demonic voice ordering them to perform tasks, escalating to degrading sex acts of increasing perversity on each other over the span of several months from late 2018 to early 2019. Some of the acts were filmed. 

The voice had threatened to kill or maim various members of the family should they fail to comply with its orders. Telling the victims that they needed to be punished for transgressions, the accused - using a deep, ominous voice - had ordered them to turn off the lights, lie face down on the bed with pillows over their heads while the “demon” whipped and beat them with various implements. 

The desperate situation had driven the mother to attempt suicide.

The court was told how the family’s eldest daughter had, over time, come to suspect the 22-year-old accused was behind the voice, and had contacted social workers, who encouraged her to file a police report.

The accused had been introduced to the family through his then girlfriend, the youngest daughter, who was 14 at the time. 

Moving in with the family after a month, he had used a series of machinations and psychological terror tactics to convince the family that the fact that the mother had dabbled in the occult, some ten years before, had opened the door to demonic forces which were manifesting themselves through him. 

Eventually, the accused had essentially taken control over the family, living with them rent free and spending most of his days playing video games and skiving off school.

The court also heard a social worker testify that the youngest daughter had already been on child protection service's radar and was supposed to be residing with her paternal grandparents, but had been living with her parents and boyfriend anyway. The elder sister had told the social workers that her mother had been involved in the occult and that her sister’s boyfriend was using this belief to control the entire family, in particular her mother.

One of the witnesses to testify was Fr. John Vella OFM Cap, who has exercised the ministry of exorcism since 2005. The priest had testified as an eyewitness, having visited the house on three occasions at the request of the victims.

Replying to a question from the judge, Fr Vella told the court that he had not seen anything to suggest that this was a genuine case of demonic possession. 

The trial was reconvened for judgment to be handed down at 7pm on the evening of Friday 13 January - an apt date if ever there was one, given the subject matter of the case.


Day 1 of the trial

Day 2 of the trial

Day 3 of the trial

Day 4 of the trial

Day 5 of the trial

The judge read out the lengthy judgment in its entirety, a process which took over two hours. The accused was indicted for aggravated rape, inciting persons to perform acts contrary to their modesty, participation in non-consensual sexual activity, illegal arrest, causing other to fear that violence would be used against them and, last but not least, sex with a minor.

The accused, who showed absolutely no emotion at any point throughout his trial, retained his sphinx-like expression as the judge read out the long judgement.

The judge said that it was clear that the prosecution had failed to bring several witnesses who could have corroborated the victims’ testimony and noted that experts had not been appointed to document the physical injuries alleged.

The court also admonished the prosecution for only exhibiting photocopies of the mother’s medical file instead of bringing the doctor who had treated her to testify.

Although the accused exercised his right not to testify, he had released a statement to the police which the court said had incriminated himself in certain parts. 

Describing the case as a “singularly macabre” one which merited an inquiry, the court said it had however seen sufficient evidence to form a decision. In spite of its shortcomings, the judge said that the prosecution’s case was more credible than the claims made by the accused.

The court said it didn’t believe his claim that there were evil spirits in the house and was convinced that the moving of items, penetration with brooms and other acts had, in fact, been carried out by the accused.

It emerged clearly from the witness evidence that the mother had been raped with a broomstick by the accused, ruled the judge. There had also been a clear course of violent conduct that had terrorised the family.

He was, however, not found guilty of detaining the family against their will, as the evidence showed that they had been allowed to leave the house.

In its considerations on punishment, the court took into account the fact that the accused was a first-time offender and had been young at the time of the offence. However, on the other hand, several other factors including the multiplicity of victims and the accused's ingratitude towards a family that had taken him into their home weighed against leniency.
Finding him guilty under the relevant heads of indictment, the court sentenced the man to 20 years in prison and the payment of €7,794 in costs.

The court ordered a ban on the publication of the names of any of the parties involved in the case. A three-year protection order in favour of the victims was also issued.

His name was also ordered to be inscribed on the sex offenders register.

Lawyer Mario Mifsud was defence counsel. Lawyers Angele Vella and Francesco Refalo from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted.

Lawyers Lara Dimitriyevic and Stephanie Caruana represented the victims.