Paulina Dembska murder: Abner Aquilna grins as his Balluta church antics are described in court

Abner Aquilina told health centre staff he was in perfect health but doctor referred him to psychiatric assistance

Abner Aquilina (left) is accused of murdering Paulina Dembska in Sliema on New Year's Day 2022
Abner Aquilina (left) is accused of murdering Paulina Dembska in Sliema on New Year's Day 2022

The man accused of murdering a young Polish student on New Year’s Day, 2022, had insisted with medical staff who examined him that he was in perfect health, the court heard on Wednesday.

Medical staff from the Floriana Health Centre were testifying in the compilation of evidence against Abner Aquilina, accused of murdering Paulina Dembska at Sliema's Independence Garden.

Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia heard the health centre staff say that Aquilina's behaviour led them to suspect otherwise.

Dr Andrew Hall, who had examined Aquilina after his arrest, testified first. The accused had been brought to him by the police in view of his antics in a church, he said.

“I examined his mental state and referred him for psychiatric treatment,” the doctor said, explaining that he had made the referral after conferring with on call psychiatry specialists.

“During my examinations, I noticed that he was not taking care of his appearance. He was repeating the same words over and over again. He did not maintain eye contact and was agitated,” the doctor said under cross-examination by lawyer Stefano Filletti, who is representing the family of the victim.

The accused had told him that he had seen “a woman dressed in white and had followed her into a church.”

Aquilina grinned in court as his Balluta church antics were described on the witness stand.

“He said there was an influence controlling his thoughts and actions. When I asked him what this influence was, he put his finger over his mouth and made a shushing sound and said he couldn’t give a reply,” the doctor testified.

The witness said he had consulted with colleagues in psychiatry and they had recommended that Aquilina be assessed and observed further.

Filletti read from the medical report: “[Aquilina] insisted that he was in perfect health and showed signs of agitation that increased with the number of questions asked.”

“Did he give details of what he had done in church?” asked the lawyer. “No, but the police had mentioned that he had been kicking things over inside Balluta church.”

The doctor had not asked Aquilina about the murder as he had not been linked to it at that time, he said.

When cross-examined by Aquilina’s defence lawyer Mario Mifsud, the witness said that he had recommended Aquilina immediately be taken to hospital, on the advice of the psychiatrists on call, but was not able to confirm that this had, in fact, taken place.

The accused’s constant grin widened as the next witness, a senior staff nurse at the Floriana Health Centre, took the stand, although the reason for this is not clear.

“I had taken care of the patient myself and had passed on some swabs of the blood that was on his hands, to the police.” The witness recognised the accused in the dock, saying that he had bleached blonde hair at the time.

“When he came in he was agitated, I had to clean his hands because they were full of blood. His left hand had been bandaged, but not by us,” she said, explaining that he had been using a camouflage pattern bandage that had not been issued by the health service.

“He wanted me to clean the wound with only saline solution, he snatched the bottle to check if it was saline.” She had handed the blood swabs to one of the three police officers accompanying Aquilina, she said.

The court also heard two police constables testify about the crime scene. The witnesses, both recalled being dispatched to Sliema by the control room. As they approached the scene, a foreign national had approached them to tell them where the body was.

He explained that he had attempted to cover the victim to protect the woman’s modesty until the police arrived, because she was partially unclothed. The police officers said they had then covered Dembska’s body with a sheet.

Her jeans and underwear were also found at the scene, they said also describing how her running shoes had been at the side, together with a cream-coloured handbag. A clump of hair, which they suspected to have belonged to the victim, was hanging on the railing. The victim had also been hit in the face, they said.

Both officers were shown photos of the crime scene and asked to confirm the details.

The court upheld a request by the prosecution asking for a witness to testify from Colombia via videoconferencing . The court appointed a translator to translate a request to this effect from Maltese to Spanish, in order for it to be sent to the Colombian authorities.

The case continues in March.

Inspector Shaun Pawney assisted by AG lawyers Darlene Grima and Anthony Vella led the prosecution. Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud appeared for the accused. Lawyer Stefano Filletti assisted as parte civile.