Public Registry unwilling to declare murdered taxi driver dead despite DNA match

"Medically possible" for Matthew Zahra to be alive without hand, lower leg and rib, court told

Matthew Zahra was reported missing in August 2012
Matthew Zahra was reported missing in August 2012

The family of murder victim Matthew Zahra remain unable to give his remains a dignified burial, because of a refusal by the Public Registry to declare him dead - in spite of his bones having been identified using DNA techniques - because there is a chance that Zahra might still be alive without a leg, hand and rib, a court has been told today.

A representative from the Public Registry was summoned to the witness stand to explain “the anomalous situation whereby two persons are undergoing criminal proceedings for the murder of a person who is not officially dead.”

Registry Official Mario Ellul explained that the reason that Zahra had not been issued a death certificate by the public registry was because he had never been pronounced dead by a doctor. The cause and date of death are normally required for the issuing of this document, however. “What doctor will certify a precise time of death for an incomplete skeleton?” asked Filletti, in comments to MaltaToday.

Zahra went missing in 2012 and his remains were found buried together with mixed porcine remains in a field in Birzebbuga in 2013. The remains of Mario Camilleri, known as l-imnieħru and his son had also been recovered from the same field.

Zahra’s DNA had been conclusively identified in some of the bones recovered – a hand, leg and one rib.  

But today, a representative for the Director of the Public Registry remarked that it was technically possible that Zahra could still be alive, albeit with missing limbs. The statement was made in the presence of family members of the deceased, who are understood to have been horrified by it.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, who is appearing in parte civile for Zahra’s family, has made several requests for the release of Zahra’s remains so that the family would be able to give him a proper burial and achieve some sort of closure.

Jason Galea, 39, of Marsa and Ronald Urry, 49, of Paola are pleading not guilty to the murder of 27-year-old Zahra, a taxi-driver, in August 2012.

Earlier this year, Filletti had informed the court that matters had been complicated because Zahra’s cause of death was still to be determined. “Tests revealed that the remains are of Zahra’s, so we have a situation where the state has started proceedings against two people for his murder although a death certificate has not yet been issued,” Filletti told the court. “It is important to have a death certificate because of inheritance issues,” he said.

In the absence of a death certificate, the only option available to the Zahra family is to wait for the lapse of ten years.

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