Dembska murder: Abner Aquilina threatened to use ‘demonic powers’ on doctors

Uncertainty hangs over Paulina Dembska murder case as accused Abner Aquilina is readmitted to Mount Carmel Hospital

Abner Aquilina (left), and Paulina Dembska (right)
Abner Aquilina (left), and Paulina Dembska (right)

Murder suspect Abner Aquilina refused medication and threatened doctors he would use his ‘demonic powers’ on them, a psychiatrist has testified in court.

Aquilina told doctors there was a demon inside him, in a relapse incident he had two days before the court case against him continued today. However, Aquilina was not in court because he had been readmitted to Mount Carmel Hospital for treatment.

Psychiatrist Joseph Saliba, the clinical director at the Corradino Correctional Facility and the Mount Carmel Hospital’s Forensic Unit, was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Aquilina.

Aquilina is charged with the rape and murder of 29-year-old Polish student Paulina Dembska on 2 January.

Saliba testified how the accused exhibited “strange behaviour” and had also shaved his head. He also refused to take his medications, claiming that there was a demon inside him.

The doctor told the court that Aquilina was placed under continuous observation and dressed in non-tearable clothes to avoid self-harm. Aquilina had stripped naked and blocked his toilet, flooding the room, the doctor testified.

The accused had to be given three doses of tranquillizer to calm him down, the court heard.

“He was threatening us, saying that he had powers and would make our lives miserable. He said that either he had a demon inside him or that he was the devil himself, that he would be crucified upside down… This morning, he was stark naked and threatened to use his powers, he ordered us to kneel before him,” the psychiatrist testified.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised on whether the accused is fit to stand trial given the relapse.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, representing the Dembska family, insisted that relatives of the murdered woman deserved closure and justice. He raised the concern that the relapse, two days before the sitting, was an attempt to avoid proceedings.

Filletti asked the psychiatrist whether Aquilina had spoken of the victim.

“He used words… obscene language… almost boasting…,” Saliba testified to protestations from defence lawyer Mario Mifsud, who insisted the prosecution was attempting entrapment.

16:32 That’s all for today, thanks for following. Karl Azzopardi
16:30 At law, If the psychiatrists find that he was insane, a gurin (a jury whose sole duty is to decide on an insanity plea) will take place for a decision on whether he can be found criminally responsible. Karl Azzopardi
16:29 Court adjourned for a report by the three psychiatrists till 11 March at 10am. Karl Azzopardi
16:27 "In view of this decree, the court declares that the timeframes for the closing of this compilation of evidence, under section 401 is suspended from today as laid out in section 402(1)(a) of the Criminal Code." Karl Azzopardi
16:24 She appoints three psychiatrists to examine the accused and report on whether he is insane today and whether he was insane at the time of the commission of the offence. Karl Azzopardi
16:23 The court denied the request to suspend the time frames. There was reasonable suspicion that the accused was insane at the time of the commission of the offence, she says. Karl Azzopardi
16:19 Inspector Wayne Camilleri, lawyer Martina Cuschieri appeared for the parte civile, lawyer Mario Mifsud represented the defendant. Karl Azzopardi
16:17 The magistrate has arrived. Karl Azzopardi
16:07 We are back in the courtroom, and our senior court reporter is waiting for the magistrate’s decree. Karl Azzopardi
13:33 Clarification: In a statement Air Malta clarified that Paulina Dembska's body was not “lost” at Heathrow as previously reported. Dembska’s remains arrived in Warsaw on Friday 4 February on a later flight due to delays. Laura Calleja
13:29 Our court reporter is still waiting for the sitting to resume. The sitting was meant to resume at 1:15pm, however the magistrate is still in her chambers. Laura Calleja
12:55 We have been informed by our court reporter that the sitting will resume at 1:15pm. Laura Calleja
11:39 The magistrate has retired to her chambers. The parties now wait for her ruling. Kurt Sansone
11:32 The court suspends the sitting to see what would be the best way forward. Kurt Sansone
11:31 Filletti tells the court that if the accused is to be released from Mount Carmel Hospital, the court should hold a sitting as close as possible to the date to avoid a repeat of today's performance. Kurt Sansone
11:31 Mifsud says that it could be that the prison environment had triggered his client’s relapse. Kurt Sansone
11:30 Back in court, the magistrate asks why a request for the suspension of time limits was not made under 402(1)(a). Filletti chuckles. “That's a can of worms,” he says since it will give rise to questions of insanity, which was up to the defence to raise. If that section of the law is used, it would trigger a suspension of proceedings and a ‘ġurin’ would have to be appointed to decide on the question of insanity. Kurt Sansone
11:29 QUICK RECAP: We are in the second sitting of the compilation of evidence against Abner Aquilina. He stands charged with raping and murdering Paulina Dembska on 2 January 2022. Aquilina is not present in court today because he was readmitted to Mount Carmel Hospital. His psychiatrist, Joseph Saliba, has testified that Aquilina refused to take his medication and was telling doctors that he had a demon inside him or that he was the devil himself. The incident happened two days ago. Saliba also testified that Aquilina was found naked in his room and when doctors entered he ordered them to bow down in front of him. The accused had to be administered tranquilisers. Meanwhile, the Dembska family lawyer is requesting the court suspend the time period for finding prima facie evidence, given that the accused was not medically fit. The parte civile has expressed concern that the relapse incident, having happened just before today’s sitting, was an excuse to avoid the hearing. Kurt Sansone
11:23 Filletti explains that he is not going to make the request for this appointment just yet as the situation may resolve itself by the next sitting. Kurt Sansone
11:23 “The parte civile reserves its right to request the court appoint a psychiatrist in the next sitting, in order to determine whether the accused can attend sittings or not and in what way. This to verify whether, in the meantime, the accused becomes fit for trial with a certificate of the psychiatrist treating him,” Filletti continues. Kurt Sansone
11:22 The court invites the parties to summarise their position in a dictated note. “The parties, in view of the testimony given today, are requesting the court suspend the time limits of these proceedings in terms of section 402 (1)(b) of Chapter 9 of the laws of Malta,” Filletti dictates. Kurt Sansone
11:21 Mifsud agrees with Filletti's suggestion that more time be given. Kurt Sansone
11:21 Mifsud says he didn't want to be interpreted as not wanting justice and adds that he could not but sympathise with the victim’s family. “What is certain is we have a victim... and a person who is certified unable to attend today's sitting for psychiatric reasons. This was issued by a psychiatrist who has a warrant. We shouldn't shop around for diagnoses,” Mifsud says. Kurt Sansone
11:19 Filletti says he didn't want nullity as things had to be carried out properly, and didn't want this game to continue before every sitting. He wants the sitting to be suspended and then if the certificate is not issued, the court would be able to decide on whether the accused is fit for trial. Kurt Sansone
11:19 Filletti explains that he found it inconsistent that a person who had boasted about what he had done with the victim to the psychiatrist is not in court today because he is suffering from psychosis. “What the defence didn't say is what the accused answered when asked whether he had any remorse. I will not say it now, it will come out in due time...” Kurt Sansone
11:18 Parte civile lawyer Stefano Filletti says there was pressure, as the victim had not even been buried yet. “There is pressure as the victim before being murdered was raped… also with objects. The accused is presumed innocent, but there is also the family of the victim. Justice must be done also with them.” Kurt Sansone
11:17 The reference is to changes proposed by the government to the Criminal Code earlier this week in which femicide will be referenced at law. The development comes in the wake of Dembska’s murder and the outcry from women’s rights organisations. Kurt Sansone
11:15 Mifsud says pressure is not good for anyone. “To make it worse, the State, when it wants to, having woken up, has decided to present a draft Bill on femicide, creating a two-tiered justice.” Kurt Sansone
11:14 Mifsud reads the medical note in the acts: “‘This is to confirm that the above mentioned patient is fit for interrogation.’ Is that it? Not even a little detail?” Kurt Sansone
11:13 He disagrees that there was some kind of mis en scene, but says he will leave it to the medical experts to determine that. “The defence also wants justice, but it must be fair and without any undue pressure from anyone. The media is important and does good work, the State must do its job, but as the defence I must see that things are done correctly and justice is done.” Kurt Sansone
11:13 Mifsud says even “a whisky could affect what one says”, more so, psychiatric medications. Kurt Sansone
11:11 Mifsud says that Aquilina was first sent to Mount Carmel Hospital because he was not fit to stand trial, and then got better and went back to the prison facility. Mifsud tells the court that Aquilina had told interrogators he had been “stuffed with pills”. “So, this person needs to tell us what pills he administered to the accused,” Mifsud argues. Kurt Sansone
11:10 Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud says he was going to request the court, to have the person who issued a paper during his client’s arraignment saying that Abner was fit to stand trial, to confirm it in court under oath. Mifsud says the doctors were under immense pressure because of the nature of the case. Kurt Sansone
11:08 Prosecutor Anthony Vella, for the AG, says that the extremes for the case to be held in abeyance were there. Kurt Sansone
11:07 Filletti says the doctor treating the accused was not legally able to declare him unfit for trial. The court must appoint an independent expert for this express purpose. Kurt Sansone
11:07 Filletti, who is representing the Dembska family in proceedings, reminds the court that Aquilina had boasted about the murder. “Someone must answer for this murder.” Kurt Sansone
11:05 Filletti: “The parte civile doesn't believe that there are sufficient reasons for the accused to be declared unfit to stand trial. It appears that the accused misbehaved, in the same way he did with the police. Justice must be done. Caesar’s coin must be paid. We cannot be at the whims of the accused, who two days before his case is heard gets himself admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital.” Kurt Sansone
11:04 There is a procedural impasse in that the time frame for prima facie is running out, Filletti argues. The court could pause this time limit. He suggests the court still give an adjournment in the future to see whether Aquilina is fit for trial. Kurt Sansone
11:02 Filletti addresses the court, pointing out that it was a delicate issue. In the first sitting, Aquilina had COVID-19 and was in quarantine, and now this issue has cropped up. He quotes from the part of the Criminal Code, which deals with the scenario where a witness is heard in the absence of the accused in court. “Tomorrow, Paulina's funeral will take place in Poland,” Filletti says. Kurt Sansone
11:01 The court asks if he thinks it will be a long stay at Mount Carmel Hospital but the doctor replies that he cannot say. “Up till this morning he [Aquilina] was very difficult to treat,” the witness says. Kurt Sansone
11:00 The defence says it has no questions. The witness asks the court to bear in mind that as long as Aquilina stays where he is, he is in his care. “I don't want to lose the trust of my client. I have a conflict of interest in that I must prevent him from getting harmed and I have to put his interests first.” Kurt Sansone
10:59 Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud interject and shouts, accusing the prosecution of entrapment. “Now, my client can't even speak to his psychiatrist!” Kurt Sansone
10:58 Saliba: “He used words… obscene language… almost boasting…” Kurt Sansone
10:58 Filletti asks whether the accused had spoken of the victim. Saliba testifies that Aquilina had mentioned her. Kurt Sansone
10:57 Witness: “I am not a court-appointed expert, I cannot give an opinion. It wouldn’t have affected me, because at CCF I am responsible that nobody gets hurt. We have a forensic ward available, so I used it.” Kurt Sansone
10:56 Magistrate: “Now, with hindsight, having been told that there was going to be this sitting, could there be a link between the sitting and the accused’s behaviour on Wednesday?” Kurt Sansone
10:55 The witness says he was told about the sitting yesterday. Kurt Sansone
10:54 Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud interrupts the questioning and argues with Filletti, claiming the lawyer is playing to the audience. Filletti says he is not playing to the gallery, but that he is representing a broken family who needs to know what happened for closure. Kurt Sansone
10:53 Witness: “No, because it didn't happen on the eve of the sitting. It happened two days before.” Kurt Sansone
10:53 Filletti: “Did you not see it strange that it happened on the eve of the sitting?” Kurt Sansone
10:53 The court stops the question, saying that it had appointed an expert to examine the accused. Filletti explains that he meant no offence, but he needs to understand what was happening beyond the courtroom. Kurt Sansone
10:52 Filletti points out that he had been certified as not fit for trial on the eve of the trial. Had the witness taken this into account? Kurt Sansone
10:51 Saliba says he was physically present whilst Aquilina was administered his injections. The staff had to be very firm with him, he explains. Kurt Sansone
10:51 We are hearing the testimony of psychiatrist Joseph Saliba, under whose care the accused is. Kurt Sansone
10:50 The doctor says Aquilina refuted that he was mentally ill and said that he needed to ‘spend time in outer space not the Forensic Unit’. “At times, he had claimed to have exaggerated his symptoms. He was inconsistent,” the witness testifies. Kurt Sansone
10:49 Filletti: “Were you aware of the fact that when he was arrested, during his first contact with the police, he made several similar claims of devil possession?” Kurt Sansone
10:47 Lawyer Stefano Filletti, who is representing the murder victim’s family, cross examines the witness. Kurt Sansone
10:46 Saliba: “This morning, he was stark naked and threatened to use his powers, he ordered us to kneel before him.” Kurt Sansone
10:46 The doctor says that Aquilina was put on strong medication. Kurt Sansone
10:45 Saliba says that yesterday, the accused was graphically describing things that happened with the victim. “He was threatening us, saying that he had powers and would make our lives miserable. He said that either he had a demon inside him or that he was the devil himself, that he would be crucified upside down.” Kurt Sansone
10:44 The doctor says that Aquilina had stripped naked and blocked his toilet, flooding the room. He had to be given three doses of tranquilizer to calm him down. Kurt Sansone
10:43 Aquilina had refused to take his medications saying there was a demon inside him and refused treatment saying that he could not be treated. He was placed under continuous observation and dressed in non-tearable clothes to avoid self-harm. Kurt Sansone
10:43 The doctor says Aquilina showed strange behaviour and had shaved his head. He warns that his testimony might become graphic. Kurt Sansone
10:42 The doctor says that the accused resisted taking the medication. Kurt Sansone
10:41 Aquilina had improved enough to be sent back to Corradino. The accused was prescribed medication, which he was being administered even in prison. Kurt Sansone
10:41 The doctor says that Aquilina looked like he was relapsing. The accused had been at the Forensic Unit under observation since he had shown signs of psychosis at Mount Carmel Hospital. Kurt Sansone
10:39 The court exempts him from professional secrecy. Saliba testifies: “I last saw him two days ago... Abner Aquilina had been taken straight to the Forensic Unit after his arraignment. He was admitted on 13 January and discharged on 24 January, still under my care. Aquilina was then taken to Corradino.” Kurt Sansone
10:35 Saliba is a psychiatrist and the clinical director at the Corradino Correctional Facility and the Forensic Unit at Mount Carmel Hospital. Kurt Sansone
10:34 Dr Joseph Saliba takes the stand and is administered the oath. Kurt Sansone
10:33 The magistrate says she instructed the doctor who issued the certificate to attend today's sitting. Kurt Sansone
10:33 The court declares that yesterday at around 3pm, it was informed by prison officials that the accused could not be brought to today's sitting due to the fact that he had to be admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital. The court was told that a medical certificate would be issued to the effect that he was not in a position to attend the sitting. Kurt Sansone
10:32 The magistrate emerges from chambers and the sitting begins. Kurt Sansone
10:32 Aquilina’s relatives are in court, including the woman seen sobbing earlier. Kurt Sansone
10:29 Today’s sitting is the second one. Aquilina is not in court with sources having told MaltaToday that he has been readmitted to Mount Carmel Hospital for treatment. Kurt Sansone
10:23 In the first sitting of the compilation of evidence, a police inspector testified how Aquilina raped the victim vaginally, orally and anally. The murder happened at the Independence Garden in Sliema on 2 January. Aquilina told police his mind was ‘like a cooker’. Kurt Sansone
10:20 A woman seated behind the bench used by the accused wipes away tears. Kurt Sansone
10:15 Prosecutor Anthony Vella from the Office of the Attorney General, police inspectors Jonathan Ransley and Wayne Camilleri have a quiet chat with lawyer Stefano Filletti, who is representing the Dembska family, and defence lawyer Mario Mifsud as we wait for Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia to emerge from chambers. Kurt Sansone
10:07 However, uncertainty hangs over the case since MaltaToday is informed that Aquilina has been readmitted to Mount Carmel Hospital. Kurt Sansone
10:07 Our senior court reporter Matthew Agius is inside the courtroom where the compilation of evidence against Abner Aquilina will continue being heard. Kurt Sansone
10:06 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

Filletti asked the magistrate to suspend the time period allotted at law for the declaration of prima facie evidence, given the circumstances. He said that once Aquilina is released from the hospital, the case should continue at the earliest to avoid any more delays.

The defence lawyer argued the relapse may have been triggered by the fact that Aquilina was transferred to prison from the forensic unit at Mount Carmel Hospital.

The magistrate is expected to give a ruling later this afternoon.

More to follow.

READ MORE: Dembska murder: Accused told police his mind was a 'cooker' and received ‘frequencies’