Cassone murder | Defence highlights conflicting testimonies

The lawyer chipped away at an 'erratic and approximate' police investigation and inconsistencies in the testimony

Silvano D'Agostini, the restaurant's former chef, had been contradicted by every other witness
Silvano D'Agostini, the restaurant's former chef, had been contradicted by every other witness

Lawyers defending a man accused of murder have asked searching questions about the investigation and testimony of the four Italian eyewitnesses.

The trial of the man accused of the murder of Italian restaurant worker Vittorio Cassone, who was shot dead during an armed robbery at Chef Italy in St Julian’s in 1993 entered its sixth day with defence lawyer Franco Debono continuing his final submissions.

The lawyer chipped away at what he described as an “erratic and approximate” police investigation and inconsistencies in the testimony given to the court by the Italian witnesses, arguing that there was more than reasonable doubt required to exonerate the accused.

Debono continued to pick apart their testimony this morning. “[On Saturday] Silvano D'Agostini had said that he had seen acne and described the man's eyes as evil.” He asked how this detail had only emerged now, two decades later, as had the story about the getaway car. 

The witness did not explain how he had seen the robber's “evil eyes”, or his acne, through the tights covering his face. “Besides, whoever holds you up is going to look evil to you. Thank you Mr D'Agostini, for illuminating us,” quipped the lawyer.

D'Agostini, the restaurant's former chef, had been contradicted by every other witness, the defence said, pointing out that this was the witness with the most interest in the outcome of this case and mentioning a civil case, related to the hold up, against an insurer which he had lost on appeal.

“As soon as he opened his mouth he shot himself in the foot,” the lawyer said. D'Agostini had testified that he had recognised the accused during the identification parade but had told the police that he wasn't certain because he was scared. The lawyer contrasted this with the fact that D'Agostini had wanted to attack the accused during the first lineup. This didn't convey that he was afraid, Debono said.

The chef's version had been contradicted by other witnesses and he had revealed more details every time he had taken the witness stand. “He continued to dig a hole every time he testified.”

His first statement didn't mention the fact that he had relationship with wife of deceased. “Would this not be the first thing you tell the investigator? Isn't this even slightly relevant? He who doesn't say the truth from the beginning, is a liar.”

“If you're scared of someone, do you say it is him and then say you're not sure? If you're scared you're careful about what you tell the police in the first place or say you didn't see anything,” submitted Debono. “If there is something that emerged beyond reasonable doubt in these proceedings, it was that he wasn't scared.”

Fabrizio Comaldini, when in Rome, had picked out Jason Galea eight times from photographs, he said, “because he wasn't subtly nudged towards anyone.”

"Comaldini said he had handed the robber the money, he didn't see D'Agostini as he might have been behind him or in the kitchen. He didn't exclude that he might have emerged from the kitchen," he said. But D'Agostini had claimed to have opened the till and handed the robber the money himself.

Comaldini also said that he had misidentified the accused because he was afraid . “What was he afraid of, in Rome? Afraid of the man who he didn't pick out eight times?”

“We asked Russo if he had met D'Agostini after and he said no. We asked D'Agostini and he said that once he had gone to find him at his can't rely on any of them.”

Russo was “the classic case of an unreliable witness,” Debono argued. His fidgeting in court was one indicator, he said, but his testifying for over an hour in Maltese and talking so fast that he had to be asked to slow down, was another. “Do you think he needs an interpreter when his back is against the wall? Is that the type of witness you can trust?”

“Russo,” the lawyer said, “the one with the largest memory lapse, who forgot that he had testified in the compilation of evidence, was the one who identified the accused in the dock with the greatest confidence – 22 years later, with all the physical changes.”

Mrs Rose Mary Suda, the person who had seen the robber from closest range, had doubts as to the persons in the lineup, he argued. If any of the people there had reason to be fearful of the accused, it was her, as he had taken her handbag. She had consistently indicated three people as possible matches. This did not reach the level of beyond reasonable doubt.

Casting doubts on the inquiry, Debono said “what I know for certain is that nobody saw the inquiring magistrate.”  

The case is based on identification, as there was no forensic evidence linking the crime to the accused, he pointed out. “You have four witnesses who aren't consistent. The one woman who was consistent, wasn't sure," Debono said, telling the jury that they should not have any difficulty in deciding the accused is not guilty.

The trial continues tomorrow.

Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Anne Marie Cutajar are prosecuting. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are defence counsel.

 The media has been prohibited from reporting the name of the accused, on account of the fact that he had been 17 at the time of the murder.