Accused in stork shooting case told friend he 'screwed up'

Man accused of killing three storks left his field as birds rested over Dingli and returned shortly afterwards looking confused, according to two friends who heard shots being fired

James Magri stands accused of killing three storks
James Magri stands accused of killing three storks

A man accused of shooting a number of storks allegedly called up his friend shortly afterwards to say he “screwed up.”

This emerged as Magistrate Astrid May Grima began hearing the compilation of evidence against 41-year-old James Magri from Dingli, who is accused of shooting three of the protected birds.

Before starting the sitting, the magistrate declared that her partner is a member of the FKNK, a hunting organisation, and asked if there was any objection. There was none.

Magri’s friend, Roderick Galea, who was offered immunity from prosecution if he tendered evidence, took the stand. 

Galea had finished work at 6.30pm on Friday 10 August, he said, and had gone near James Magri and another man in his field near Dingli. “We usually just have a coffee and say a few words,” he said. The men had noticed a number of storks flying nearby.

“Two of us stayed there, me and Sherizen. While we were looking at them we heard three shots. Shortly afterwards James came and told us to close up and go home. He looked a little confused and harried. He told them that he had shot at birds but we didn’t see what he had hit.”

The witness said that after they left, Magri called him and said: "I screwed up.’

White storks similar to the ones that landed in Dingli at the start of August (File photo: Raymond Galea)
White storks similar to the ones that landed in Dingli at the start of August (File photo: Raymond Galea)

Cross examined by defence lawyer Edward Gatt, Galea said that he had not seen any dead birds or birds getting shot. The lawyer asked if there were any other hunters' hides in the fields surrounding the area. There were five or six hides, he responded. Galea confirmed that he had seen Magri's shotgun, before the incident

Another witness, Shenizen Borg from Birkirkara, took the stand.

He had been at home and had gone near James Magri at around 6.15pm. “I found him with his shotgun. Later a guy called Roderick came with us. Shortly afterwards the storks arrived over the school."

Borg told the court that the storks landed on poles near the field. "James moved away to a different position. Shortly afterwards we heard three shots and we didn’t see anything. We kept on looking at the storks. Then James came and said 'close up, close up, let’s go'.”

Borg did not see any dead storks either. The youth had released a statement to the police after turning down the offer of having a lawyer present.

"James was a bit agitated when he came back," Borg testified.

Cyclist takes witness stand

Joseph Psaila had been cycling in the area and saw some large birds in the Dingli area. “They appeared to rest on some poles. I stopped to take some photographs of the birds. By the time I got off the bike one of them flew off, I heard some shots and saw some birds go down. By the time I turned the corner. I saw a man running with a shotgun in one hand and a bird in the other."

Psaila told the court that he saw the man run into a side street and emerge with a shotgun only. Psaila gave footage from his bike-mounted camera to the police.

Gatt asked him to identify the shotgun in the still photographs provided from his camera. He could not.

“Are you telling me that you identified things that the camera didn’t see?” asked the lawyer.

“I don’t know what the camera saw, I know that I saw a man running with birds and shotgun,” the witness said.

The camera had a wide angle lens and the man was less than 100m away, he added. “On my way back I saw a dead bird and I tried to call ALE but couldn’t find a number. I found the number for BirdLife.”

Gatt asked if he had discussed the issue with BirdLife before. The witness replied that he had.

ALE officers testified that they searched Magri’s house. A showcase with stuffed birds was seized. A freezer was searched but found to be empty.

Prosecuting Inspector Colin Sheldon also testified, explaining that Magri’s field was less than a 30-second walk away from where one dead bird had been found.

Gatt requested bail. He would be contesting the admissibility of the footage from the bicycle camera, he said.

The court upheld the request for bail, releasing Magri from arrest as all the prosecution witnesses had now testified. Magri was required to deposit €3,000 and provide a personal guarantee of €7,000 as security for bail. He was also ordered to sign a bail book once a week.