Abner Aquilina confessed to having murdered Paulina Dembska to his prison cellmates, a court heard on Wednesday.

Aquilina reportedly “bragged and laughed” about how he had raped and murdered Dembska, recounting the January 2022 crime in graphic detail.

He also told fellow inmates that he had secured a 20-year sentence as part of a plea bargain deal – something prosecuting inspector Jonathan Ransley staunchly denied when testifying on Wednesday.

Ransley told the court that Aquilina appeared to delight in recounting the crime, in an apparent attempt to “impress new inmates”.

Among other things, he had explained how he used a bandage on his arm to strangle her and also sexually assaulted her with a car key. The description tallied with autopsy findings, the prosecution said, and Aquilina was seen moments before the murder while holding a key in between his fingers.

Aquilina told cellmates that he knew Dembska and said that on the day of the murder he had quarrelled with his girlfriend but stopped short of killing her because her father would have killed him, the court heard.

He also reportedly scribbled details concerning the murder on his cell walls, a court heard. But when investigators got wind of that and ordered a search, they discovered that the cell’s walls had recently been whitewashed.

As a female police officer searched his cell, Aquilina reportedly revealed his genitals, telling her “What are you looking for? Why not seize my penis as evidence, because that’s what was inside her.”

That search was recorded using police bodycams. 

Aquilina was arrested in Balluta a short while after Dembska’s body was found close to the Sliema promenade in the early hours of January 2, 2022, in a violent murder that shocked the nation. A court has heard that he confessed to the crime to arresting officers. The confession was recorded on police bodycams.

He is however pleading not guilty to charges, with his defence seeking to have him declared insane.

Testifying on Wednesday, inspector Ransley said police first got wind that Aquilina may have spoken about the crime to his cellmates on January 23. His cell was searched on February 2, after police spoke to two of his former cellmates.

Aquilina 'threatened to kill more'

Inmates who shared a cell with Aquilina had also heard him vow to kill more people once released from jail. They once overheard him on the phone saying he would kill his mother and lawyer.

A diary seized during that cell search, which opens by noting that it is the diary of “Abner the chosen one” and his “adventures at the forensic ward” also included references to “bad things happening to cat feeders”, the court heard.

Dembska, a 29-year-old Polish student, was a cat lover who often spent time feeding strays. She was killed at Sliema’s Independence Gardens, a spot often frequented by stray cat feeders.

Hysterical laughter

While Ransley testified and recounted the details, Aquilina laughed hysterically while in the dock. His mother, visibly troubled, sat behind him.

When the prosecution asked the court to minute the accused’s behaviour, the defence leaned into its insanity plea.

“What do you want to minute? That he’s insane, confirmed by three psychiatrists,” argued defence lawyer Mario Mifsud.

Mifsud said his client needed to receive treatment before he could face judicial proceedings.

“And if he said he’d kill a lawyer, then the prosecution should inform the chamber of advocates, for the protection of its members,” he added.

Justice must be served but treatment must be given to him too, stressed Mifsud. He said that Mount Carmel is much better than the forensic ward at prison, where Aquilina is currently being held.

The case continues.

Magistrate Mars-Anne Farrugia is presiding. Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Lara Dimitrijevic are appearing parte civile. AG lawyers Anthony Vella and Darlene Grima are prosecuting together with inspectors Jonathan Ransley, Wayne Camilleri and Shaun Pawney.

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