12 years’ jail for Qormi criminal in 2005 police shoot-out

Marco Pace, ‘il-Pinzell’, gets 12 years on attempted murder of police officers during Qormi shoot-out in 2005

Marco Pace, known as 'il-Pinzell', was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to the attempted murder of police officers during a clamorous shoot-out in Qormi back on 15 February 2005.

Prosecutors during the trial by jury had described what sounded like an action-packed Hollywood movie, the six-hour stand-off at Pace's house in Qormi where he shot at police while high on cocaine, using a machine gun.

Pace had refused to come out of his house after he barricaded himself inside with his friend Mario Vella, also known as In-Nanak.

Two women, Yanika Abdilla, the girlfriend of Pace, and Kelly Micallef who lived with them, were also in the house during the incident. Micallef was found dead in her house in January 2011 after suffering a drug overdose.

The incident was sparked off when Pace's mother, Giovanna, told the police she believed her son had fired a shot at her front door following an argument. The two had got into an argument after she refused to allow her son to let his friend, Chris Mattizelli, park his boat in their garage. Minutes later she heard the glass of the door shatter and she called the police, warning them that her son was a very dangerous person.

As police officers arrived at the scene to investigate the shooting, Pace fired in their direction from the roof of his house. Officers called Pace on his phone demanding his surrender, but he threatened to blow up the residence with gas cylinders if the officers entered the building. High on cocaine, he told the police there were eight people in the house and that he suffered from AIDS, and it did not matter to him whether he lived or not.

Shots were heard being fired inside the house at 9pm, some directed at officers stationed at the back of the building. At around 1am of the following morning, members of the Special Assignment Group (SAG) stormed the house and arrested the four people inside. Over 34 tear gas canisters were shot inside the house prior to and during the storming. No-one was injured in the incident, however the amount of gas fired prevented a magisterial inquiry from taking place the following day.

During the trial of accomplice Mario Vella, Pace's girlfriend Yanika Abdilla recounted how her life had been dominated by drugs, sex, violence and shootings. Together with her boyfriend, they would start the day with "a breakfast of vodka and cocaine". The couple were consuming around 50 grams of cocaine every day.

Due to their drug habit, she suffered from severe incontinence and would urinate as she walked around the house. "I was more like a maid who was being paid in cocaine than a girlfriend. He ordered me not to leave the house and disgraced me. On Valentine's Day, a day before the incident, he locked me up in the kitchen and had sex with Kelly Micallef who had just moved in with us," Abdilla recalled in court.

The witness claimed that Pace wanted to die like Scarface, the character in the Al Pacino movie he was obsessed with. "He brandished a sawn-off shotgun and a machine-gun against the police and wanted to kill police as they were killing him," she said. When the police fired tear gas, Pace remained on the bed smoking cocaine as his girlfriend tried to fetch wet towels and control the gas. He also ordered her to go fetch a ladle from the kitchen to cook cocaine in it.

When the air in the house became unbreathable from the tear gas, they went to the roof but Pace and the other three returned to the lower floor of the building from where Pace continued shooting at the police while Kelly Micallef handed him ammunition and Mario Vella stayed behind them. Eventually they moved back inside. Kelly Micallef swallowed pills and fell asleep while Pace smoked cocaine. Vella sat at the end of the bed not knowing what to do. The four were arrested when the police stormed the place.

Lawyers Giannella de Marco and Steve Tonna Lowell appeared for the accused.

Accomplice Mario Vella, 30 of Sta Venera was handed a seven-year jail term after a jury found him guilty of complicity. His trial was held in 2011.

Marco Pace is well known to the police. In June 1991, he was imprisoned for 18 months after being found guilty of attempted theft, threats and assault on police officers.

The following month he was handed a 14-month jail term together with Victor Magri for again threatening and assaulting police.

Magri, known as iċ-Ċinku, was shot dead in Ta' Qali in December, 2004 and Pace was accused of his murder.

In June 1992, Pace was conditionally discharged after facing drug-related charges. In May 1997 he was charged with committing a hold-up, together with Johan Micallef, at the Qormi Bank of Valletta branch.

In December 2000, he was handed down a four-year jail term after being found guilty of a hold-up on a lotto receiver in Qormi. In July 2002, he was fined €1,400 for possession of cannabis and relapsing.

Is it just me or is it completely ridiculous that this very dangerous person gets basically the equivalent sentence as Daniel Holmes who grew a few plants for personal use and never hurt anybody?