Updated | 15 months' jail for Qbajjar homicide, 'excusable on basis of provocation'

Full acquittal for Gerald Galea on attempted murder of Matthew Spiteri, but jury returns 6-3 guilty verdict for the homicide of John Spiteri.

Gerald Galea the day he was arraigned in Gozo for the murder of John Spiteri in 2013
Gerald Galea the day he was arraigned in Gozo for the murder of John Spiteri in 2013

The jury trying a Gozitan pensioner for murder and attempted murder, has declared him guilty of the excusable wilful homicide, provoked by grievous bodily harm, of John Spiteri, but cleared him of the attempted homicide of Matthew Spiteri, and of criminal damage.

The qualification meant Gerald Galea could have been sentenced a maximum of 24 months' imprisonment.

In a verdict returned late on Friday, jurors found him guilty by a verdict of 6 to 3, albeit with the excusing factor that the homicide was provoked by grievous bodily harm. The jury also declared him not guilty, by 8 votes to 1, of the attempted homicide of Matthew Spiteri, and not guilty by 7 votes to 2 of the heads of indictment relating to the damage caused by the car.

Judge Antonio Mizzi handed down a 15 month sentence, but Galea's lawyers say that due to the time already spent in custody, Galea will only be spending two more months in prison.

Galea, 67, had been accused of murdering 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 in 2013.

Spiteri died shortly after being run over by a car driven by Galea, who could have been jailed for life on the homicide indictment.

Galea hadalso been indicted for the attempted murder of Spiteri’s son and with causing thousands of euros worth of damage to the car he was driving, which did not belong to him. He was found not guilty of these accusations.

Over the past three weeks, the jury had heard medical experts testify that Spiteri died of injuries caused by being run over by a car, driven by Galea. But jurors had also been shown that Galea suffered grievous injuries from at least four punches, which fractured his eye socket and caused severe swelling.

The prosecution insisted that Galea had driven around the car park taunting the victim before running him over and that Matthew Spiteri had dodged the car’s path in time, grabbed on to the driver side door pillar and punched the accused, who then drove into a low wall, uprooting a tree in the process. Upon emerging from the vehicle, the accused received more blows to the face at the hands of Matthew Spiteri.

But Galea’s defence team placed strong emphasis on crucial claims made in Matthew Spiteri’s account that had been disproven by forensic and witness evidence. They argued that the powerful blows to Galea's face had been delivered before the crash and not afterwards, as Spiteri claimed. Galea himself told the jury that he was unable to see where the car was going, saying he “just wanted to get the hell out of there.”

Judge Antonio Mizzi presided. Lawyers Kevin Valletta and Giannella Busuttil from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted. Galea was defended by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jason Azzopardi. Lawyer Joe Giglio appeared as parte civile for the Spiteri family.

More in Court & Police

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition