Mintoff Bland stabbing | Court told of prior ‘physical’ row

Witnesses testifying in the Mintoff Bland stabbing case have described another argument in the week leading up to the incident as being ‘physical’, while an expert's report showed that the house fire was started deliberately

Daniel Mainwaring has testified about the incident in which both he and his mother, Yana Mintoff Bland (pictured) were stabbed
Daniel Mainwaring has testified about the incident in which both he and his mother, Yana Mintoff Bland (pictured) were stabbed

Daniel Mainwaring, son of knife attack victim Yana Mintoff Bland has testified about the incident in which both he and his mother were stabbed, as another witness revealed that the couple had a "physical" row the week before. 

Mintoff Bland and Mainwaring, 32, suffered stab wounds at around 10pm on 24 October in an alleged domestic dispute at the Mintoff residence in Tarxien. Mintoff Bland's former partner, Gheorghe Popa, who was found by the police hiding in a tree behind the Tarxien villa, has been charged with stabbing the two in a fit of paranoid rage.

Members of the Civil Protection Department had also been called in as the residence had been set on fire.

Today, Mainwaring was one of several witnesses who testified today before magistrate Joe Mifsud during the compilation of evidence against Popa, 39.

Popa is accused of detaining Mintoff Bland against her will, attempting to grievously injure her and slightly injuring her and her son with a bladed instrument in an incident thought to have been sparked by jealousy. 

Popa is also charged with carrying a weapon during the commission of a crime against the person, carrying a knife in public without a police licence, attacking Mintoff Bland and her son with a knife and uttering verbal threats.

Mintoff Bland was present in the courtroom throughout the sitting this morning, taking notes as she sat behind her lawyer, Joe Giglio.

The witness explained that his grandfather's residence had been split into two properties, he resided in one whilst his mother lived in the other half. The properties are separated by a garden.

“I went through the garden, then upstairs to the balcony of my house, played some ukulele and smoked a cigarette, then I saw them arguing.” Mintoff Bland and Popa had been together for around a year at the time, he said.

“I heard them arguing so I went in the house, through the screen door, then I saw my mum was gasping for breath. Gheorghe was saying 'Who is he?’, she was saying ‘There is no he.' I ran in and announced myself to Gheorghe as soon as I saw him across the door way. Gheorghe lunged towards me, I saw my mum lying on her back, it was clear he was on top of her, all the lights were off, I saw the blade knife, a large silver knife blade, I lifted my leg to protect my stomach and so he stabbed me in the leg. I was stabbed in the left thigh, twice, according to the medical records.” Mainwaring managed to get away and ran out of the house screaming. “I thought to myself 'My mother is still in there', then I ran in. I met my mum who was running out, coming out the screen door...She was in an intense state of shock, so I wrapped my arm around her, and yelled to my friends that we need to leave. We got into my mother’s car and Aaron drove to the polyclinic and the hospital.”

“I did not know much about their relationship, it was her business, I knew they fought a lot and she had told me and my friend that she had left him and not to let him inside again.”

Mainwaring's German girlfriend Anna Marinovic also took the witness stand this morning. She had been living in with him in Tarxien for several years and had seen the accused many times in that period.

Lawyer Joe Giglio, appearing as parte civile for Mintoff Bland, asked Marinovic what she remembered from that night. “We were making dinner. At one point I went to get lemons from the garden and I heard Gheorghe and Yana arguing...” Marinovic had been unable to decipher what the argument was about, she said, but stressed that it was not the first argument she had heard. Roughly a week before, she said, “they had an argument and it had become a bit...physical.”

On that occasion, Marinovic said, Mintoff Bland had asked the accused to leave “many times.” “She had wanted him to leave the house. He refused to go and always tried to go on to her again.” The witness had said ‘Hello’ loudly when she had returned to the house and the argument had stopped. Popa had stayed at table with them on that occasion while they had a drink, but didn't say a word.

But a week later a more violent argument had erupted, she said. “I went back in the house...they had an argument like always. We had dinner then. When we were finished we heard screaming...I heard Daniel yell and Yana came running towards us. I took Yana to the street into the car. The others came and we jumped into the car.

“She had a wound in her chest and I knew that something bad had happened,” said the witness.

Popa’s defence lawyer Benjamin Valenzia cross-examined. He asked where Daniel had been when they had been making dinner. He was on the balcony playing his ukulele, having already eaten out, he said.

A longstanding friend of Mainwaring's, Mark Napier, testified that he had also been in the house at the time of the stabbing, having recently returned from Germany. He told magistrate Joseph Mifsud that he had been at home with Marinovic at the time.

“I was at home after going olive picking. I was upstairs and Anna came running to tell me that she thinks she saw someone because the light was on. I told her that Gheorghe had probably returned.”

Whilst having dinner they had heard Daniel shouting, he said. “It was cry of panic.” 

“Obviously, the three of us, we got up quickly and left our residence into the garden and found Daniel carrying Yana from the opposite side of the garden...after that it was a sprint to the car, calling the police, going to the polyclinic.”

Daniel had been helping his mother walk, Napier said. “She was limping. At the time I noticed that Yana had blood and was unsteady on her feet.” Napier hadn't seen the accused during the incident, but he had seen him before, he said and the two had even gone to have a drink. The witness said he was aware that the accused had “some kind of a relationship with Yana” and had also occasionally heard them argue. He had heard them argue the week before the stabbing, he affirmed, during Giglio's cross-examination.

“When we went back to the other side of the residence, where the incident had taken place, it was locked.” Napier said he heard police shouting and rattling noises. “I didn't notice the fire at first.”

At one point, the glass on the second floor shattered because of the fire and Napier had called the fire brigade. The firefighters were the first to enter the property, followed later by the police.

The witness said he hadn't seen the accused. He had heard about him having climbed a tree but hadn't seen this himself, he said.

Cross-examined by Valenzia, the witness said dinner had been ready. There had been potatos in the oven, which was situated at the other side of the property.

A third member in Mainwaring's household, Aaron Attard from Tarxien also took the witness stand today. He had been living there with Daniel, Mark and Anna for some time, he said.

Attard and the other residents had been baking pie at the time when they heard shouting from the other house.

“I knew something was wrong because of the tone. We ran outside into the dividing garden. I saw Daniel helping Yana to walk at the other side of the garden. He was shouting that she had been stabbed.”

“I saw Yana clutching her breast. She had blood on her clothes”

Attard said he had grabbed a bag and got into Mintoff Bland's car which he had driven. “At first we had wanted to go to hospital but I worried that she might not make it to we went to the polyclinic.”

Attard also said that he had not seen Popa in the tree, which is in front of Yana's house, on the pavement. The tree is as high as, if not higher, than the house, he said.

Court expert Mario Scerri described Mintoff Bland's injuries to the court. One stab wound to her chest had not penetrated the woman's thoracic cavity. She had another wound on her hand that, together with a bruise on that arm, indicated self defence, he said. The pattern of her injuries did not suggest that they were self-inflicted the expert told the court.

He subsequently heard that Popa was being operated on. The fact that Popa's injuries were concentrated in a small area, the knife was the same and the angle of the wounds suggested that they might have been self-inflicted, he said. “I had asked him whether he had inflicted them on himself and he had replied that he did not remember.”

Expert says fire had been started deliberately

Another court expert, Daniel Vella, told the court that the subsequent fire appeared to have started in the living room on one of the two sofas. He excluded a nearby computer and printer as being the cause of ignition because the electrical socket was a distance away and had not been burned.

“I think the fire was started deliberately,” the expert said. No appliances were nearby. The sofa material and the nearby papers could easily have been used as tinder.

IT expert Donald Tabone, who had been appointed to analyse CCTV recordings during the magisterial inquiry, told the court that no footage had been recorded. “The hard disk was creaking, which indicated that it wasn't working properly. The cameras were working but the recording equipment wasn't working." The expert had tried to analyse the hard disk, but to no avail. Tabone said he did not suspect foul play, however, as the equipment was old.

The police forensics officer who had examined a knife recovered outside the property's front door for fingerprints was next on the witness stand. The knife had red stains on it, he said, but the prints had been too smudged for identification purposes and could only show that it had been handled.

Giglio, observing that “the knife had not fallen from the heavens,” asked what would have led such a knife, in the circumstances in which it was found, not to have fingerprints.

“If the knife was being used to stab with someone, would this lead to smudging?” he asked. The expert said it was possible but added that there were other factors that could also have led to this.

The case continues in March. Inspector Spiridione Zammit is prosecuting. 

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