Judgment in police station rape trial expected on Monday

Prosecutor says defendant would engineer his shift patterns to ensure a better chance of ending up alone with the victim at the Msida police station • Defence argues prosecution failed to present tangible evidence

The judge presiding the trial of a former police officer accused of raping a female colleague during a night shift has announced that she will hand down judgement on Monday.

Madame Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera heard closing arguments by both prosecution and defence on Friday in a trial that has done no favours for the public image of Malta’s police force.

“Rape is an ugly crime, but being falsely accused of rape is ugly too,” lawyer Franco Debono, defence counsel together with lawyer Edward Gatt, said on Friday. “Just this week in the UK a woman named Eleanor Williams was jailed for eight and a half years for falsely claiming to have been raped. Justice must not be done at the expense of the accused.”

Although the alleged victim had a boyfriend and a son, she also had a colleague in the force whom she admitted to kissing, argued the lawyer. “If we are saying that the defendant was promiscuous and had many girlfriends, we must see what pulpit we are preaching from.”

He pointed out that although it featured heavily in the prosecution’s submissions, none of the alleged victims had spoken of shame. “Fear yes. Rather, she was discussing his size with one of her colleagues.”

“While it was true that a court can find guilt on the strength of a single witness’ testimony, for a witness to be believed, especially if it’s just one witness, there must be some form of corroboration. But the other prosecution witnesses contradicted their primary witness [the alleged rape victim]... Couldn’t they have brought at least one person here to substantiate what she was claiming?”

Debono argued that the officer who claimed to have been raped had claimed to have been intimidated. “We saw how she reacts to authority. Are we to believe that the same person who openly challenged her superiors would simply submit to a person of the same rank?”

When asked what the accused had threatened her with, the female former officer had declared that she was afraid of being dragged before a board, which was never identified nor its existence confirmed, Debono said.

“It is not a defence to say you are prepared to submit to rape to avoid a board,” he added.

She had rejected her colleagues’ offers of assistance, he said. “The two officers who spoke to her told us that she had smiled and spoken about size… When they offered to help, she told them to leave it.”

Momentarily turning his guns on the officer who claimed to have been groped and harassed, Debono submitted that at most, she had been pestered by the accused and was “stretching it a bit” by claiming to have gone through “martyrdom.” He pointed out that she clearly had a strong character and had insisted several times that the situation was under control.

Going back to the officer who claimed to have been raped, Debono was exuberant in his submissions. “Is it not extraordinary that she changed her shift to work with the defendant, her supposed rapist? It’s literally mind-boggling. Not only did she not try to move away from him, but tried to move towards him!”

The prosecution had conducted an exercise in character assassination with regards to Inspector Lara Butters, Debono said. “I almost felt sorry for her. She ended up being investigated and insulted over the style of clothes she wears.”

The officer claiming rape had been described as “antisocial” by the other alleged victim, added the lawyer, “besides the many other witnesses who testified about her character.”

The prosecutor’s description of the defendant as a “giant” was another insidious attempt at character assassination, he added.

The alleged rape victim had demonstrated her lack of respect for authority when she told the court that a question it had just asked her was “irrelevant and personal,” added the lawyer.

“It was with great malice that she said that the defendant had many girlfriends, but when asked about her love life, she said it was irrelevant and personal.”

“The prosecution said we built a defence based on semantics. Words have meaning, so if you use “dragged” instead of “pulled”, of course there is a difference. Semantics would have been pointing out that she said he took off her underwear and not simply pulled it down.”

Debono invited the prosecution to “bring a single piece of evidence” to show that the victim resisted, pointing out that no medical or photographic evidence to support this had been provided.

“You know what he did to cover his tracks? What a crafty giant he is! He ejaculated outside her,” mocked the lawyer, arguing that it stood to reason that there were probably other reasons for doing so.

The alleged rape victim had attended a meal with her alleged rapist after the alleged rape, he said, asking whether this made logical sense. “The easiest way she could have not sat opposite the accused was to make up an excuse and not go to the meal at all.” 

“She was such a good girl that she would remind him that he had a partner. She didn’t think of her partner when she was kissing another officer or having sex with the accused,” needled the defence lawyer, adding that the natural reaction to being harassed would be to report him and the harassment would have ended there.

“When the victim had used the word “animal” she had not been describing the accused’s character,” said the lawyer. “My colleague had been asking her whether she had ever commented about the size of the defendant’s endowment and she said that she had, while talking to someone else.”

The prosecution had not addressed the issue of consent in its arguments, Debono said. “It did not prove that there was no consent and did not convince us about the absence of consent. We believe that there should not be a custodial sentence.”

The judge adjourned the trial to Monday for sentencing.

Earlier: “He thought he was untouchable” - prosecution 

Earlier today the prosecution described the defendant as having thought himself “untouchable” because he was in uniform.

Lawyer Angele Vella, prosecuting together with lawyer Darlene Grima, made her final submissions on Friday morning.

Quoting from the recent UK judgment against police officer and serial rapist David Carrick, who received a life sentence earlier this year, Vella said "you behaved as if you were untouchable. You were bold and at times relentless, trusting that no victim would overcome her shame and fear to report you."

She emphasised what she said was the careful forethought that the accused had put into covering his tracks, pointing out to presiding judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera that the defendant would not actually send messages to the victims - which would have left digital traces- but would only write them out on his phone and show it to them.

The prosecutor described the defendant as “a 27-year-old giant,” contrasting it with the diminutive woman, who had been 22 at the time. 

He had engineered his shift patterns to ensure a better chance of ending up alone with her at the Msida police station, she said.

“In the background he is showing her explicit messages. He felt ‘untouchable’ and able to do anything because he was in uniform.”

“He dragged her by the arm into the Sergeant’s room. But before this…this is how unafraid he was…he demanded oral sex and she told him no, that she had a partner and son and didn’t need her.”

The defence had built their argument on semantics, Vella said. “Did he pull her or drag her?... He pulled and dragged her! After demanding oral sex!”

“But oral sex wasn’t enough for him,” said the prosecutor, stressing that the alleged victim had already taken her utility belt off because she had been inside the station, which made it easier for him to pull down her trousers and underwear. “Once he had started he wasn’t going to stop.”

“He was clever. He didn’t ejaculate inside her… he was careful not to leave evidence behind.”

Vella pointed out that the defendant himself had used the threat of a disciplinary board to psychologically subjugate the woman. 
“He was subjecting her to intimidation at her workplace, warning her not to tell anyone, telling her that he’s her sergeant… She had no one to help her, because none of her colleagues helped her.”

The prosecutor insisted that the man had harassed the female officer. “It wasn’t just sexual harassment, but harassment in general at the workplace,” she said. “Constantly pestering her.”

Vella pointed out that the Sergeant on duty with them on one of the night shifts had first claimed to have been drowsy after taking medicine for a cold during the trial. “Five years later he remembered that he had taken medicine.”

Going to the police station’s toilet entailed going up 23 steps, so the kitchenette was more comfortable, Vella said. “He did the same thing again. He felt untouchable. And he was untouchable.”

The accused’s actions “broke the victim physically and psychologically,” she said.

Vella highlighted what she described as a culture of impunity at the Msida police station at the time. “The defendant taking civilian women out for rides in the police car, playing Xbox games while on duty…a laissez faire attitude. Do you think she [the victim] didn’t note this?”

We believe that the rape has been amply proved, beyond reasonable doubt. “When you have a perpetrator of this sort, he is smart, he left no trace. His mindset was not to leave a trace.”

Lawyers Angele Vella and Darlene Grima are prosecuting on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.

The defendant is being represented by lawyers Edward Gatt and Franco Debono.

Lawyers Lara Dimitriyevic and Stephanie Caruana are appearing for the alleged victims.