James Vella and Chris Scerri to stand trial for BOV bank messenger’s murder

Court rules that there is enough evidence to place the two accused under bill of indictment; defence lawyer to seek constitutional redress over “unfair trial” claims.

James Vella, 33, of Qormi, known as ‘il-Frejzer’, and 35-year-old Chris Scerri, known as ‘Gazzetti’ or ‘Buttuni’, were this morning placed under a bill of indictment after Magistrate Josette Demicoli ruled that there is enough evidence for the men to stand trial for the murder of BOV bank messenger Alphonse Ferriggi.

On September 18 2000, bank messenger Alphonse Ferriggi, 42, was delivering seven bags of internal bank mail when a black Volkswagen Golf drove up and a shot him in the head as he stood outside the Bank of Valletta branch.Ferriggi was shot at almost point blank range and died on the spot. His assailants thought he was carrying money.

In 2011, jurors found Richard Grech ‘Iz-Zinanna’, 44, of Qormi, guilty for Ferriggi's murder, and he was consequently jailed for life, while getaway driver Joseph Zammit admitted to his involvement in the failed bank heist and was jailed for 30 years.

Vella and Scerri were arraigned in court on July 11, and pleaded not guilty to the murder with James Vella insisting that “he does not anything of the charges.” The two men also denied to stealing bank documents, holding Alphonse Ferriggi against his will, being in possession of a firearm, firing the firearm in a public place, and to causing damage to a BOV registered vehicle.  

Presided by Magistrate Josette Demicoli, the court also rejected the defence’s plea for bail, arguing that when analyses the nature of the charges, there is a great possibility that the accused would tamper evidence or approach the witnesses of the case.

Today's sitting also saw prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud and defence lawyer Franco Debono trade blows as to whether there is enough prima facie evidence for the accused to face trial. 

Prosecuting inspector Keith Arnaud insisted that there is enough prima facie evidence for the accused to be placed under a bill of indictment, claiming that the prosecution need not prove all the charges brought against the accused.

While admitting that “until now, there is no definite proof against the accused,”Arnaud told the court that the law does not oblige the prosecution to prove prima facie evidence against all the charges, and that enough proof against one charge is enough. 

“The fact that Justin Fenech testified that Richard Grech had told him that the accused were part of the heist is enough. Moreover, the fact that Joseph Zammit testified that he had driven the two men to the drop off point is sufficient evidence for the two men to be placed under a bill of indictment,” he said.

“This is a court of inquiry, and not one to decide the merits of the case,” Arnaud argued.

On his part, defence lawyer Franco Debono told the court that it “is absurd” that Arnaud is saying that there is not enough evidence, and at the same time requesting the court to place the accused under a bill of indictment. Consequently, Debono said that he may seek constitutional redress on the basis of unfair trial.

“The accused should not have been placed under a bill of indictment, because Inspector Keith Arnaud did not provide any tangible evidence, and the main witness, Richard Grech, has yet to be summonsed to testify.”

“It is absurd that in July 2014 a prosecuting inspector does not have enough evidence to prove all nine charges,” he said.

Trading blows with Arnaud, Debono claimed that the prosecution only focused on proving evidence on the murder charge, and argued that there has yet to be any other evidence to proof the other charges - including that of stealing a vehicle, which in itself carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

Moreover, Debono said that the majority of the evidence should not be admissible because it is hearsay.

Today’s sitting also saw Chris Mangion and a former policeman testify. Taking the witness stand, Chris Mangion, who at the time of the shooting lived in San Gwann, told the court that at around 5am, he was on his roof when he heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the BOV bank branch. A neighbour told him that a person had been shot. 

Mangion also said that as soon as he heard the gunshot, he saw a car fleeing from the scene of the crime.

Mangion, who was also a rescuer with St John’s Ambulance, then went to provide medical assistance, where he found Alphonse Ferriggi’s face blown off. Despite his severe injuries, Ferriggi, was still alive, but succumbed to his injuries a few moments later. .

On his part, Mario Saliba, a former policeman, told the court  that he too heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the BOV branch in San Gwann. Testifying, Saliba told the court that he then saw a vehicle – "a Honda Civic or a Volkswagen" – fleeing the scene towards the San Gwann parish church.

Lawyer Franco Debono represented the accused, while Inspectors Keith Arnaud and Chris Pullicino prosecuted.