Cassone murder | Italian witness: ‘I held him, he took his last three breaths and died’

Murder victim Vittorio Cassone was shot when he moved to help witness Fabrizio Comaldini open the till, Italian tells jury hearing 1993 murder case

Fabrizio Comaldini took the witness stand for the first time in the Cassone murder case
Fabrizio Comaldini took the witness stand for the first time in the Cassone murder case

A former restaurant cashier has told a jury how his colleague died in his arms, moments after being shot in a robbery 23 years ago.

Fabrizio Comaldini took the witness stand for the first time in the case, having previously only corresponded with the Maltese authorities via letters rogatory.

Comaldini worked at the St Julian’s restaurant Chef Italia Gastronomia in 1993, aged 19, at the time of a botched hold-up in which colleague Vittorio Cassone died.

His co-workers included an Italian national married to a Maltese girl by the name of Sarah, and Italian kitchen helper Silvano D’Agostino. Murder victim Vittorrio Cassone had been working as cashier that night.

An armed man entered the restaurant, he said, demanding cash and shouting “karti karti” (banknotes). The robber had been wearing jeans, a red and black checked shirt, with a pair of tights over his head.

“When I lowered my head to get the cash, I heard a shot and moved back. I thought he shot me, but then I saw Vittorio on the floor. The thief escaped with the money he had put on the counter.”

The witness said he thought Cassone had fainted, because he had not noticed any blood. “I went to help him, and then I noticed a little hole above his heart that was not bleeding. I held him. He took his last three breaths and died.”

The defence placed a great deal of emphasis on Comaldini’s identification of the accused. Comaldini had picked out the accused from a police line-up the day after the shooting, but when photographs of the line-up had been sent to him in Italy, later, he had expressed doubts about his initial choice, saying it might also have been another person.

When shown the photographs this morning, Comaldini picked out the wrong person and only later in the afternoon he recognised the accused. “I had told the police 99% sure that it was him,” he explained, referring to the original identification parade. “I didn’t say 100% because I was afraid of having to face him and of him looking for me if he escaped from prison.”

Asked whether he knew the name of the person he had pointed out, he said the police had told him the name on the day of the parade, after he had recognised the accused.

He was asked whether he had been involved in any other identification parades. He said that had been the only one he had participated in that day.

“My friends had thought that I had been killed,” Comaldini recalled.

He identified the accused in court today. “He's changed a bit, but it’s him.”

The judge asked whether, other than during the identification parade, the police had shown him several photographs of faces. “Yes,” he replied. “Maybe the day before the parade or on the day itself...I don't remember clearly, so much time has passed.”

Had anyone pointed out any faces on the photographs, asked the judge. “No, I picked it out.” He recalled that he had seen a couple of people who looked similar to each other, but insisted that he had not been prompted or guided towards the selection in any way.

Defence lawyer Marion Camilleri confronted the witness with the fact that some years later, in Italy, he had picked out a certain Jason Galea in the photographs. Had he been afraid too? He hadn’t, he said. Why had he consistently picked out the same person? “That happened in 2011, the crime took place in 1993.”

Camilleri argued that it meant that he gave one version in the ID parade, another in Italy, another this morning and another this afternoon. Was he still unsure today? Was it because it had been suggested to him today? the lawyer asked.

Judge Antonio Mizzi, presiding the trial, reminded the defence that no suggestions had been made by the prosecution today. “Be careful with this line of questioning,” he warned.

“Even the police had asked me why I said 99%,” the witness recalled. “I said 99%. I was afraid. I was not uncertain. I was afraid that I would be made to face him, like I am doing now.”

“Now seeing the photos, I am more convinced that it was number 3,” the Italian replied, his body language relaxed, despite his habit of gesticulating while speaking.

“Is this because you see him in here today?” Camilleri asked.

“Partially, yes. 23 years have passed. Maybe if you put a pair of tights over his head it would be easier,” he replied.

Camilleri said the robber had first pointed the pistol at Comaldini, suggesting that his eyes had been on the pistol, as the object of major concern. “Obviously, I looked at the pistol as it was pointed at me, but I was also observing the situation.”

The lawyer suggested he had fumbled to open the till and this further reduced the time he spent observing the robber. “I looked at his face when he started saying ‘ejja, ejja, ejja’. Vittorio moved to help me open the till and that was the moment he shot,” Comaldini said, gesticulating again. “I remember those eyes, the hair, what he had been wearing. I remember it clearly.”

The court has imposed a ban on the publication of the name of the accused, due to the fact that the robber, a Cospicua man who is currently in jail, had been a minor at the time.

Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Anne Marie Cutajar from the office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are defence counsel.