Daphne Caruana Galizia's body only identified from DNA analysis, court hears

Witnesses gave distressing accounts of the scene of the murder back in October • Forensic expert Mario Scerri said body parts were scattered everywhere with 'human tissue strewn around in the road'

Daphne Caruana Galizia's body was only identified from DNA analysis, as her body was beyond recognition, forensic expert Mario Scerri told the court today. 

The compilation of evidence against the three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued this morning before Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.

During the last sitting on Tuesday 17 July, the prosecution had nine witnesses summoned to testify, however, none were able to make it. Eight witnesses took the stand today, giving harrowing accounts of the scene of the journalist’s murder on 16 October 2017.

Forensic expert Mario Scerri, who had been appointed by magistrate Anthony Vella, described the scene on the day of Caruana Galizia’s death. He said that body parts were scattered everywhere, with “human tissue strewn around in the road”.

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s cause of death was established to be from blast injury during her autopsy, Profs Marie Therese Camilleri Podesta and Dr Ali Safraz confirmed during today’s court hearing. Caruana Galizia was identified from DNA analysis as the body was burnt beyond recognition. 

Other witnesses included PC Reuben Balzan, who exhibited photographs of the scene, court expert Mario Buttigieg and AFM soldier Joseph Bondin.

The case will now continue on 3 September.

10:37 All witnesses have testified for today. The case will now continue on 3 September. Maria Pace
10:14 The cause of death was established as blast injury. They handed a copy of their report to the court. Maria Pace
10:12 Profs Marie Therese Camilleri Podesta and Dr Ali Safraz take the stand. They had carried out the autopsy on the body. Maria Pace
10:09 A search was also carried out at a farmhouse in Mosta for components of an Improvised explosive devices (IED) but nothing was found. Maria Pace
10:08 The sixth witness of the day takes the stand. Joseph Bondin, an AFM soldier testified that he and his EOD colleagues had gone to the scene to ensure the area was safe and that there was no secondary devices. A search was carried out to this end. Maria Pace
10:06 After Buttigieg, it was Inspector Alexander Miruzzi’s turn to testify, who confirmed previous sentences handed to Vince Muscat and exhibited copies of them. Defence lawyer Martin Fenech is asking for the removal of this sentence from the acts because it was over ten years old. The court refused the request as the valuation of whether a sentence is admissible or not for the purposes of recidivism should happen at the stage of the final sentence. Maria Pace
10:03 Mario Buttigieg, a court expert, was appointed to check the rental history of Caruana Galizia's car - a white Peugeot 108. He exhibited his report. No questions were asked to this witness. Maria Pace
10:00 The accused remain expressionless. Maria Pace
10:00 Caruana Galizia was identified from DNA analysis as the body was burnt beyond recognition, he said. Maria Pace
09:59 Scerri exhibited his report. He said the cause of death was blast injury and burns. "In the road there was human tissue strewn around." Maria Pace
09:58 Dr. Mario Scerri takes the stand. Scerri was appointed by magistrate Anthony Vella. Maria Pace
09:57 Balzan said that the RIU practice is to take photographs of the scene as soon as they arrive just in case anything is moved. Maria Pace
09:57 Four police officers wearing body armour are seated directly behind the three men accused of Caruana Galizia's murder. Maria Pace
09:56 PC Reuben Balzan from the RIU is now testifying, exhibiting a photograph he took of the scene. Maria Pace
09:48 Christopher Portelli from NSIS takes the stand to exhibit 112 emergency calls related to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. "The calls are from passers-by who heard the explosion." Maria Pace
09:46 The accused and their respective lawyers are all in the court room and are ready to start Maria Pace

During what turned out to be very brief sitting, Inspector Keith Arnaud exhibited previous sentences handed down to George Degiorgio and Vince Muscat as evidence of their recidivism. 

FACTS OF THE CASE

The accused 

  • George Degiorgio 55, unemployed, lives in St Paul's Bay, known as Ic-Ciniz
  • Alfred Degiorgio, 53, unemployed lives in St Paul's Bay, known as il-Fulu
  • Vincent Muscat, 55, unemployed lives in Msida, known as il-Kohhu

The courtroom players 

  • Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding
  • Inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra are prosecuting
  • Deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia is assiting the prosecution
  • Martin Fenech is appearing for Vince Muscat
  • William Cuschieri and Martha Mifsud are appearing for Alfred Degiorgio
  • Josette Sultana is appearing for George Degiorgio
  • Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi are appearing parte civile for the Caruana Galizia family

What we know so far

Caruana Galizia’s car

  • The Peugeot car Daphne Caruana Galizia was driving at the time had been leased four months before
  • Her son Matthew Caruana Galizia had occasionally used the car in the period
  • Matthew was the last person to have parked the car outside the gate of the family’s Bidnija home
  • Investigators dismantled a similar model of the car to determine whether any debris collected from the crime scene was extraneous
  • This led the police to discover the presence of an electronic board, which was part of the SIM card dock on the explosive device

The ‘small white car’

  • A person who spoke to the police had noticed a “small white car” frequenting a particular area at Tat-Targa Battery, part of the Victoria Lines
  • On the day of the murder the white car was there but unlike previous occasions the driver was not inside
  • Police noticed that next to where the car used to be parked part of a wall had collapsed and led to a place with a birds-eye view of Bidnija
  • Forensic experts combed the area for any clues, including cigarette butts
  • After the murder, the car was never seen again
  • Given Caruana Galizia did not have a fixed pattern of movement, police believe someone was shadowing her movements

The detonator

  • Location data from the Bidnija area led the police to home in on a number that received an SMS at 2.58pm and stopped broadcasting thereafter
  • The number was linked to an electronic device normally found in appliances that can be activated remotely
  • This device acted as the detonator of the car bomb
  • The device was switched on in the Bidnija area at around 2am on 16 October
  • It remained in a static location for the day until it received an SMS and disappeared

The killer SMS

  • The SMS that triggered the bomb was sent from a Nokia 105 mobile phone connected to the cell tower near the YMCA in Valletta
  • This phone was switched on, on the day of the explosion and started broadcasting from a cell ID near the Curia
  • The signal moved to Paceville, Senglea, Rinella, Zabbar and Xghajra as it bounced from cell towers north and south of the country every hour
  • The cell towers all faced seawards that led police to suspect the mobile phone was on a boat circling the island
  • The number linked to the detonator and the number that sent the SMS had been set up in November 2016 and had only corresponded with each other on three occasions

The pleasure boats

  • The Degiorgio brothers both own pleasure boats
  • CCTV footage showed that one of them – the Maya – was spotted leaving the Grand Harbour at around 8am before turning north
  • At the time the killer SMS was sent, the Maya was spotted under the Great Siege Bell area, where it stopped for a few minutes before heading towards Marsa

The top up call

  • The Secret Service had intercepted a call from George Degiorgio’s phone, asking the recipient to top him up with €5
  • The person was unable to and Degiorgio called another person, asking the same question “Don’t take long, if you can,” Degiorgio told the person
  • The person complied and minutes later topped up the number identified by George Degiorgio
  • Police obtained call profiles relating to George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat
  • All mobile numbers involved were activated within 20 minutes of each other – two were activated in Senglea and the third in Hamrun

Other facts

  • Alfred Degiorgio's DNA matched that found on a cigarette butt, which was picked up from the Victoria Lines
  • Police say Alfred Degiorgio was the spotter monitoring the Caruana Galizia household and is believed to have remained all night at the vantage point
  • Alfred called his brother George Degiorgio to inform him Caruana Galizia had left the house
  • The call lasted 107 seconds, which is the time it takes to drive from the house to where the bomb exploded
  • After detonating the bomb by SMS, George Degiorgio messaged his wife with the words: "Buy me wine, my love."
  • George Degiorgio had been telling people the day before the murder that he was going fishing
  • After the incident, George was heard boasting "I've caught two big fish today"
  • Though unemployed, the Degiorgio brothers each owned a boat and luxury cars
  • Europol experts accompanied Malta police investigations and searches when the three men were arrested

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