Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case: Court goes through boxes of evidence collected from crime scene

During Monday's sitting, footage of the boat from which the bomb was allegedly detonated, phone data and other evidence were exhibted in court

The compilation of evidence against the three men accused of murdering journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia continued on Monday, with the court going through the lengthy process of going through box after box of evidence collected from the crime scene.

Vince Muscat, il-Kohhu, Alfred Degiorgio, il-Fulu, George Degiorgio, ‘ic-Ciniz’ are the three men accused of the journalist’s murder on 16 October last year.

Court expert Keith Cutajar, an image expert, took the stand first. He had been tasked with comparing footage of Alfred Degiorgio’s boat, the Maya, taken in October and in November.

The aim of this was to ascertain whether the boat shown in all the footage is the same one.

Inspector Keith Arnaud explained that on the day of the murder, there was footage of the suspect boat entering the port. The court had heard that the boat had been seen leaving the Grand Harbour at 7:59am on the day of the murder, returning to Marsa at 2:47pm.

At this point the defence argued that if the prosecution wanted to compare boats, then the comparison should also include footage of all boats which were out that day and captured by Transport Malta cameras.

The prosecution said this could be done, and requested that, along with an expert on digital image analysis, a boat expert also be appointed to compare all the boats out on the two days.

During the hearing, inspector Arnaudsays the name of boat is “crystal clear” and that suspect George Degiorgio can clearly be seen steering boat all the way to potato shed.

Cutajar, also exhibited five forensic copies of a 6Tb drive which contained evidence gathered by Europol.

Another witness, employed with Melita as a legal counsel, then took the stand, submitting a CD with call, SMS text messages and internet data usage which took place on Melita cell towers in the vicinity of the area where the bomb was detonated.

She said she had worked hand in hand with an engineer to obtain the data, due to its technical nature.

Next to take the stand was Anthony Bonnici, a Go plc company secretary office employee, also presented a CD with data that was requested by the police.

The data included cell tower data from the towers covering Bidnija and its proximity. It also included information on whether the phones were used with a Go SIM card.

The data was requested for the period between 15 and 16 October 2017.

Bonnici explained, that, in rare cases, a mobile phone might not connect to the closest cell tower, identified by its Cell ID. He explained that this might happen in cases, for example, where a tower is undergoing maintenance, or if there is an obstacle between the phone and the tower.

“We can never be 100% sure that a particular mobile which is connected to a particular Cell ID is [physically] in the vicinity of that cell tower,” Bonnici said, when asked by the defence whether it was possible to say, without any doubt, whether a phone connected to a Cell ID had to definitely be within the coverage area of that tower.

Inspector Charlot Casha was next to testify. He had been appointed to take DNA mouth swabs from Alfred and George Degiorgio.

He explained how he had followed all the required safety procedures, and taken swabs from Alfred Degiorgio’s mouth and placed it in a secure bag, later following the same procedure to take swabs from George Degiorgio.

The swabs in the bags where then passed on to the forensic lab for testing.

Casha said he was also assigned the task of returning to evidence that had been left in the forensic unit in Malta for safe keeping, to Europol. This included burned electronic equipment found in a 45-gallon metal tank in Marsa.

He said that to carry out part of this task, he and expert Martin Bajada had to travel to the Europol headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, in March this year.

Around 90 items, which had been packed and sealed in evidence bags by Europol and given to the Maltese exhibits officer on 8 December 2017, where then returned on 11 March 2018.

Each document was then checked by Marco Tolli from the Europol, and it was confirmed that all documents were present and intact.

The accused (left to right) Vince Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio
The accused (left to right) Vince Muscat, Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio

Asked by the defence what the Degiorgio’s had been told prior to their DNA swabs being taken, Casha said they had been told a DNA sample would be taken for the purpose of genetic profiling to check it against other DNA samples in the police database.

Inspector Clinton Vella then joined Inspector Casha on the stand. 

Remnants of an extensively burnt mobile phone found in the wreckage of the burnt car Caruana Galizia had been gathered by Dutch police and taken to the Netherlands for analysis.

After the analysis, the package containing the burnt mobile phone was then sent by DHL courier post to Casha’s on 6 November 2017.

Once received, the package containing the phone was opened, and photos of it were taken by Vella. The package also contained a report on the work carried out by the Netherlands Forensic Institute on the piece of evidence.

A large number of boxes sealed with police evidence tape, containing evidence, were then brought in to the courtroom.

Police sergeant Patrick Grech, and police officers Darren Debattista then joined Vella on the stand. The three of them were nominated to open all exhibits which had been elevated from the scene of the crime.

Debattista said the boxes contained all the evidence taken from the crime scene. They had been opened on 18 November with objects which had been in the car Caruana Galizia was driving separated from those that weren’t.

The court subsequently started going through the process of opening each of the many boxes.

At a point, it emerged that some of the evidence bags contained photos taken by Europol explosive expert Mario Cmarec, with the defence arguing that photos did not constitute evidence.

The defence asked the testifying police officers whether they knew where the expert had printed the photos from, and whether the photos were found on the internet. They said that Cmarec had not told them where he found the photos.

The defence argued that Cmarec had not been authorised to place within the evidence bag, something which was not an item of proof lifted from the scene of the crime.

The prosecution, however said a court expert had to have the freedom when it came to the methods used to undertake his duty. Moreover, it emphasised, the photos did not constitute part of the evidence.

After a substantial amount of time going through each box, the case was adjourned till October 11 and 12.

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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