Man acquitted of bringing heroin into Corradino Correctional Facility 18 years ago

After nearly two decades, Matthew Frendo cleared of heroin possession allegations as court cites insufficient evidence and doubts over chain of custody

Corradino Correctional Facility (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Corradino Correctional Facility (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

A court has acquitted a man of charges relating to drug possession at the Corradino Correctional Facility, in a case relating to events that took place 18 years ago.

The case dates back to an incident in 2006, when 48-year-old Matthew Frendo from Zebbug had been accused of heroin possession and bringing the drug into the Corradino Correctional Facility.

The Court of Magistrates, with Magistrate Elaine Rizzo presiding, noted that despite the fact that Frendo had been charged in 2012, a desultory total of only five witnesses had testified in the proceedings, three of which had previously testified in the magisterial inquiry.

A Correctional Officer had testified to finding Frendo and another inmate waiting to see the doctor outside the Medical Infirmary (MI) room on June 5, 2006. As the officer approached he had seen Frendo and the other man looking at him and then looking at the floor, where the CO noticed a suspicious-looking packet. When asked, both men had denied it belonged to them. Replying to a question from the court, he said that he had not seen the men making any other movements, nor did he know how the item had ended up on the floor.

Cross-examined by lawyer David Bonello, the CO confirmed that many prisoners and detainees would use the corridor.

It was noted that Scene of Crime Officers had been handed a sealed envelope containing the suspicious substance, which they photographed. The Scene of Crime Officers had noted the same CO as having told them that Frendo had passed it to the other inmate and had dropped it on the floor whilst doing so. The substance was later tested and found to consist of 0.23g of heroin.

However, the court observed that it had no evidence that the substance in the envelope was the same substance that had been recovered at the scene. The Police Sergeant who had handled the sachet was never called to testify about how it had ended up in his possession, leaving doubts as to the chain of custody of that crucial piece of evidence.

The court observed that the CO had simply seen the defendant and the other inmate close to each other, both looking at a sachet on the floor. At no point had he declared he had seen the defendant holding the drugs, or making any other movement other than look at it. “In the light of this testimony, this Court is not sufficiently convinced that this substance belonged to Frendo. In fact, according to the testimony…the same sachet could have belonged [to the other inmate] as much as it allegedly could have been Frendo’s.”

The magistrate also pointed out that the drugs had been found in a common area that was used by every inmate, and in the absence of further evidence indicating it belonged to Frendo, the drugs could have belonged to other inmates at the prison.

In fact, noted the court, it had not been provided with evidence that Frendo was even an inmate at Corradino during the period in question.

All of these factors meant that reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant remained, said the court, acquitting Frendo of all charges.

Police Inspector Frans Micallef prosecuted. Lawyer David Bonello assisted Frendo.