Abner Aquilina’s lawyer has claimed that a friend and fellow River of Love member tried to sexually abuse his client on the night when he allegedly murdered Paulina Dembska. 

Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud made the claim while cross-examining Derek Spiteri on Monday, as the case against Aquilina continued. 

Aquilina, 20 and from Żejtun,  stands accused of murdering and raping Dembska, a Polish student, at Independence Gardens, Sliema on January 2. 

Spiteri told the court that he and another member of the evangelical group River of Love had spent the day at the beach on the morning of that New Year’s Eve. 

They later went to a River of Love prayer session before heading to the Pizza by Luca restaurant in Ħamrun with some friends. 

Afterwards, Aquilina suggested staying over at Spiteri’s home in Żejtun, so that the two could go to another River of Love meeting on New Year’s Day.

When they got to his place, the witness said he took his sleeping medication and then chatted for a while with Abner before heading off to bed, while his guest went to a separate bedroom. 

But when he got up the next morning around 9:30am, Aquilina was nowhere to be seen. The front door was ajar, he testified, and he spotted a suitcase containing Aquilina’s clothes that had not been there the night before. 

“Since he was staying with me, I was worried. I felt responsible,” Spiteri said, adding that he had called Aquilina’s mother. She told him that her son might be in hospital. 

So Spiteri first headed to Mater Dei Hospital, where he got no information about his friend, and then proceeded to the police depot. 

Trepidation on the stand

Asked by parte civile lawyer Stafano Filletti why he had felt the need to check on Aquilina after not finding him at his place, Spiteri said he was worried that his friend might have been hurt. 

Asked whether they had consumed alcohol, Spiteri said that he had no alcohol at home and they had only had a beer or a coffee at the pizzeria. 

Asked if Aquilina had said anything untoward, the witness replied in the negative. 

But when pressed further as to why he had gone to the police and whether he had done so willingly or after being summoned, Spiteri was rather evasive and unclear in his reply. 

“I used to get calls from the control room because I had a drug problem. But they would never tell me why.”

“Remember that you are under oath,” warned presiding Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia.

“I tried to help him [Abner] in a spiritual aspect,” explained the witness.

Irrangajtu!” [‘That really helped’] exclaimed defence lawyer Mario Mifsud as he took over, firing a series of direct questions at Spiteri in rapid succession. 

“You knew that Abner was abused twice previously. Did you give him sleeping pills that night, then try to abuse him, pulling down his zip?”

“No,” replied the witness.

“What if I tell you that the only reason why you went to the depot was because you were afraid that Abner might have gone to report you?”

“Certainly not,” replied the witness. 

But the grilling continued.

“Is it normal to go to the beach in that wintry weather? And what if I tell you that some time before that night, Abner had sought help? What help did River of Love give him? You could have saved a person’s life. Tell us what help you gave him?” Mifsud went on animatedly.

“Today that woman [Abner’s mother who was seated in the courtroom] might finally get some answers…..Is it normal to immediately go to file a [police] report if an adult person disappears while staying with you?” 

“Because his mum told me that he had been arrested at Balluta. Now I recall,” Spiteri said that point.

“Then why didn’t you go to St Julian’s police station?” the magistrate pointed out.

As the questioning continued, Spiteri said that he and Abner had chatted that evening on their return home. 

“Did he speak to you about his sexual abuse?” persisted Mifsud.

“He spoke about girls.”

“And did you take him to the beach to baptise him?”


Asked about their conversation at the beach, Spiteri replied, “Jesus always features in my speech.”

“What did you and your friends do to him? What prayers did you recite over him?”

“They prayed over him [Abner] in the language of the Holy Spirit,” said the witness.

“Is that why you took him to your home? Because Abner was disoriented?” the lawyer pressed on. “Go on. Speak up. Tell us why he was confused. Why didn’t you take him to hospital? What help did you give him?”

“I had no idea as to what he would do. Would I have taken him to my home had I known?” Spiteri replied. 

When the lawyer insisted that there was another reason why the witness had taken Aquilina to his home, Spiteri replied, “No. Get me proof.”

Earlier during Monday's sitting, a police sergeant and superintendent involved in the case testified about Aquilina's "strange" behaviour during interrogation.

Aquilina, one of the officers testified, had told him that he had only "completed 33%" of his plan and needed "two more victims" to wrap it up. 

The case continues. 

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