Man who sexually assaulted tourist has prison sentence suspended on appeal... because of his young age

The man had violently assaulted a Hungarian woman eight years ago

The man had assaulted the Hungarian woman after she refused his advances
The man had assaulted the Hungarian woman after she refused his advances

A convicted sex offender’s 18-month prison sentence has been suspended on appeal, due to the fact that he was in his early twenties when he had sexually assaulted a tourist, eight years ago.

Jurgen Zahra, 28, from Zejtun, had been jailed in 2017 by the Court of Magistrates after it found him guilty of committing violent indecent assault on a young Hungarian woman.

Zahra was accused of assaulting the woman during the early hours of 26 June, 2011, when she had been walking in the area between Paceville and San Gwann.

The victim had walked past the Regional Road tunnels, down the hill towards San Gwann, in the area of Birkirkara Road when Zahra, who had been drunk at the time, slowed his car down to try and chat up the woman.

After the woman had ignored his attempts to make conversation, he had tried to grab her hand, but she had escaped, crying for help while running towards the playground in Birkirkara Road, which lies under the Regional Road overpass. He had then chased her down, beat her up and torn off her clothes. The assault ended when passers-by intervened.

He had been cleared of attempted rape as the crime required genital contact but convicted of violent indecent assault and other charges.

After finding him guilty, aside from an 18-month prison sentence, the Court of Magistrates had also fined Zahra €1,150, as well as ordering him to pay court expenses amounting to €1,644.

Zahra’s lawyers, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri had filed an appeal to the sentence, arguing amongst other things that the charges were exaggerated, as the man “had not even taken off his trousers” and that the woman’s injuries were classified as slight.

In her 57-page decision on the appeal, Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera confirmed the findings of the Court of Magistrates, disagreeing with the defence on all counts but that of punishment. The judge chose to impose a lighter sentence in view of the fact that the man had no criminal record at the time and his youth.

Although it said it agreed with the first court's considerations on punishment and that it was "extremely serious" that an innocent person had been sexually assaulted for no reason at all, something which it said is "condemnable and unacceptable in a civil society," the court also took into account the fact that the accused was a 20-year-old first time offender with an unblemished criminal record at the time of the offence.

“This court cannot fail to take into account the young age of the accused, that is around 20 years of age when these crimes were carried out. This court is going to give only one chance to the accused so that he does not repeat the crimes with which he is being found guilty, which are very serious and neither commit other crimes…”

Zahra’s 18-month prison sentence was suspended for four years. The fine and order to suffer the costs of the case, imposed by the Court of Magistrates, were upheld and he was also placed under a three-year supervision order.