Qbajjar murder trial | Surprise visit by mother, 97, leaves accused in tears

Gerald Galea, 67, was visited by his elderly mother in the courtoom while on trial for the 2011 murder in Gozo of John Spiteri

'She goes to ta’ Pinu every day to pray for him', a relative said, referring to Galea's elderly mother.
'She goes to ta’ Pinu every day to pray for him', a relative said, referring to Galea's elderly mother.

A surprise courtroom visit by the elderly mother of the man on trial over a 2013 murder and attempted murder in Gozo, led to an emotional reaction this morning, as Gerald Galea’s defence team made their closing arguments.

The 67-year-old accused, who had maintained a dignified composure throughout the two weeks of his trial, was moved to tears as he stood in the dock and turned to see his 97-year-old mother seated beside his wife and his sister on public benches. This was the first time Mrs Galea had attended, crossing the Gozo channel on a day marked by severe weather.

“She goes to the Ta’ Pinu sanctuary every day to pray for him,” a relative said, later.

Galea is accused of the murder of 54-year-old John Spiteri and the attempted murder of Spiteri’s son, Matthew, in an incident sparked by the accused’s objection to the mutilation of a tamarisk tree in Qbajjar car park, Marsalforn. The jury had heard medical experts testify that Spiteri died of injuries caused by being run over by a car, driven by Galea.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is Galea’s defence counsel together with lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, continued making final submissions which he had started yesterday afternoon.

Galea’s car’s front right wheel had been deflated, making it physically impossible to perform the maneuvers described by Matthew Spiteri, said Azzopardi. Spiteri could not be telling the truth, he said. “The reason why is not for me to say, but it definitely could not be true.”

The reason for this bold claim, Azzopardi said, was based on Newtonian physics. “It is physically impossible.“

Court-appointed forensic expert Dr Mario Scerri had “made it clear that there was no way that a man of the victim’s stature would not have left a dent in the bonnet. Spiteri told the police that his father had opened his arms before he hit the bonnet. And he did it here, and it is utterly false - the photos show that there were still branches on the bonnet.”

Last week, Dr Scerri told jurors that the accused had been in tremendous pain when his eye socket was fractured by a punch from the victim, likening it to Christ’s Passion.

“He couldn’t even see,” Azzopardi continued. “The fear, fight or flight response, the difference in stature and age and the fact that the accused had been seated when he was struck all point in favour of the accused,” argued the lawyer. “Is the Attorney General serious in saying that there was the specific intent to kill?”

The lightning and rain hammering at the courtroom windows this morning provided a suitably dramatic accompaniment as Azzopardi reminded jurors that the accused’s own brother had failed to recognize him at first, quoting him as saying that Galea “looked like something out of a horror movie... he was unrecognisable.”

He pointed out that no comparative analysis of fingerprints lifted from the closed, rear passenger window had been carried out, whilst also reminding the jurors that the victims’ son said that Spiteri wrapped his arm around the door pillar.

“Even if it is possible to grab the door pillar, in my left hand, despite this necessitating my hyperextending my elbow, I would not have been able to wrap my arm around it, both because the rear window was closed and because of the forward momentum of the moving car.”

These shortcomings in evidence collection and analysis were no fault of prosecuting lawyers  Kevin Valletta and Giannella Busuttil, said the lawyer. “This was the fault of whoever was conducting the investigation.”

“Dispelled by the laws of nature and physics, disproved by court experts... even if in the worst case that you think that he is probably guilty, you must acquit, because guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt”.

The defence was critical of the fact that the bill of indictment only mentions the victim trimming some branches, but failed to mention that the tree was a protected species at law. “The law says, and it’s good for you to know, that cutting down these protected species carries with it a fine of up to €25,000. This is a law enacted in 2001. Why is the bill of indictment leaving out important facts? Would you know that Galea had his face broken from the bill of indictment? No. Would you know that he had grievous injuries that take over 30 days to heal from the bill of indictment? No.

“In our system... we say the best friend of the accused is the prosecution. These are basics. The police must investigate and gather evidence both against and in favour of the suspect. The point of the prosecution is not to convict at all costs, but to see that justice is served. It is not the fault of Drs Valletta and Busuttil that the evidence was not properly collected,” he repeated.

Azzopardi flagged numerous inconsistencies in the versions of events as described by Matthew Spiteri at different stages in the investigation. These ranged from details such as whether the accused had pulled his top or threatened him, to the fact that he told a magistrate that the accused had sped up when driving at him but had told the jury that he had slowed down.

After reminding jurors that Spiteri had described how the accused had driven around the car park a number of times shouting “yeah John, now we’ll see John,” Azzopardi asked: “How is he saying ‘yeah John’ if they didn’t know each other, as Matthew Spiteri had confirmed shortly before?”

The accused had been due to return to the United States three days after the incident and this fact made Matthew Spiteri’s testimony less credible, argued the defence.

“Does it make sense that a man, whose only contact with the victim was buying a pizza, who is going back to America would tell him ‘you won’t set up here again’? What difference would it make to him?”

Other contradictions related to the reasons given for trimming the branches, at first to make space for the kiosk, but later, to prevent a rat infestation. Galea’s threats consisted of saying that he’d report them, which Azzopardi pointed out, was not considered a threat at law. 

The trial continues.

Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Giannella Busuttil from the Office of the Attorney General are prosecuting. Galea is being defended by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jason Azzopardi. Lawyer Joe Giglio is appearing as parte civile for the Spiteri family.

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