George Degiorgio testifies about his guilty plea in Constitutional case over Caruana Galizia murder trial

George Degiorgio tells court how he and his brother had only admitted guilt to avoid the other option - a whole-life sentence

George Degiorgio
George Degiorgio

George Degiorgio, one of the two brothers jailed for 40 years after pleading guilty to the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, has told a judge that they had only admitted guilt to avoid the other option - a whole-life sentence.

Degiorgio and his brother Alfred were sentenced to 40 years in jail in November 2022, after pleading guilty to the murder at the start of their trial by jury. 

But barely two weeks after their admission, they filed an appeal application, demanding a retrial as well as a Constitutional case, claiming that their fair trial rights had been breached because they had been represented by legal-aid lawyers, who were “hired by the State”, after the Prime Minister had described them as criminals.

The legal aid lawyers had been provided by the State after their previous lawyer gave up the brief in the wake of a podcast in which the brothers candidly admitted to having killed Caruana Galizia, and described the hit as “business as usual.”

George Degiorgio took the witness stand on Friday morning as the Constitutional case continued before madam justice Audrey Demicoli. 

Degiorgio began by saying that he wanted to confirm everything that his brother had testified to in a previous sitting. Then he said: “I want to add something small, about the jury.” 

The judge granted him permission. “The jury was scheduled for 4 October 2022. It was cancelled because my brother Alfred had been on hunger strike and had ended up in hospital. Because the lawyer, Stafrace, told us that he wasn’t ready.”

in fact the jury didn’t take place on October 4, being instead rescheduled to begin on October 14, he added.

“On 14 October, at around 6:30am, that day of the jury, I woke up to an unusual noise in the [prison] division and I saw them carrying my brother out of his cell, putting him on a stretcher and taking him away.” The Degiorgios were incarcerated in cells which faced each other, he explained.

“I arrived at the lockup in court. Then 15 to 20 minutes later my brother arrived. He was in a wheelchair. I would speak to him but he wasn’t replying. I told the guards ‘is this how you’re going to take my brother to court?’”

The Degiorgios were then taken up to the courtroom.

Legal aid counsel Simon Micallef Stafrace informed Degiorgio that he would be dictating another verbal note to inform the judge that he was still not ready to defend this trial. “He did so and then told me, let’s see what happened.”

“Then, Edwina, the judge Edwina Grima, told me that she was going to begin anyway. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even hear anything [else].”

The jurors were then selected and the Attorney General made his introductory speech, before the trial was adjourned for a lunch break

“At 12:30 Micallef Stafrace came down to talk to me. He wanted to carry on. I told him ‘carry on? You just declared that you’re not ready.’”

“We are facing a loss,” the lawyer allegedly replied.

Degiorgio said that his lawyer had then told him that at that point he had two options: lose the trial and face life imprisonment, or admit and get a reduced sentence. “I said, ‘am I going to have to plead for my brother too? Look at him.”

Degiorgio claimed that in the two hours that followed he repeatedly attempted to talk to his brother, who he said, was non-responsive. 

The lawyer had then returned from negotiations with the Attorney General and informed Degiorgio that the deal was that he serve 40 years. “I bowed my head and told him to go ahead because I am tired.”

Degiorgio said he made the decision to plead guilty on the fly. “ I didn’t have any other options.” 

The case will continue in May. 

Lawyers Maurizio Cordina and Carina Bugeja Testa are representing the Attorney General and State Advocate in the proceedings. 

Lawyers Leslie Cuschieri and Noel Bianco are legal counsel to the Degiorgio brothers.