It could be weeks before Abner Aquilina is declared fit to stand trial over the gruesome killing in Sliema last weekend as he continues to receive heavy medication for his psychiatric diagnosis, according to sources close to the case.
Dembska’s lifeless body was found at Sliema’s popular Independence Gardens early last Sunday morning. She often went there to feed and spend time with the stray cats in the gardens. An autopsy confirmed she had been raped and strangled. She had head injuries and marks on her neck which indicated she had been suffocated.
The police have determined it was a random killing and there were no ties between Aquilina and the victim.
The police had to pause their interrogation of the prime suspect after psychiatric experts were called in to assess whether he was fit to continue facing investigators’ questions when doubts started to be raised about his mental state.
Sources said the experts were called in when he repeatedly told interrogators that the devil spoke to him on the night of the murder and that it had been he that “ordered him” to commit the crime. Aquilina told police on Monday that he was “doing God’s work” but the devil had entered his thoughts when the violent attack occurred.
The sources said he admitted with police that he had committed the crime.
Aquilina admitted with police that he had committed the crime
Aquilina was at first referred to Mater Dei Hospital to be seen by doctors who then referred him to the psychiatric hospital for treatment. This was when the interrogation was suspended. Sources said Aquilina is being administered heavy psychiatric medication and is being held in a single room with a policeman guarding his door. He is not suicidal.
It could take weeks before doctors are able to determine whether the medication is working and if Aquilina is able to continue facing interrogators and eventually face justice in court. The sources said that while the police can decide to proceed with arraigning Aquilina even without the declaration that he is fit to stand trial, they are not keen to go down this route as it could cause legal problems during the judicial process.
According to a reconstruction of what happened that morning, Dembska was seen parting ways with an acquaintance in the Balluta area and walked along the promenade towards Independence Gardens.
After the crime, Aquilina walked to the nearby Balluta parish church and raised a commotion, overturning chairs and making threats, before he was pulled out by some men, who called the police. He reportedly told people in the church for the 6am mass that he would kill them all.
Sources close to the case said psychiatrists treating Aquilina had diagnosed him with psychosis – a condition that affects the way the brain processes information and which causes the person to lose touch with reality. Patients might see, hear, or believe things that are not real.
Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness. It can be triggered by an underlying mental illness, a physical injury or illness, substance abuse or extreme stress or trauma. Experts say psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, involve psychosis that usually affects the person for the first time in the late teen years or early adulthood.
Insanity plea can be turned down by judge or magistrate
Citing insanity as a defence to a criminal charge is not synonymous with any medical conception of a mental disorder.
For insanity to be pleaded successfully to a criminal charge it must be shown that at the time of the act or omission, the accused was suffering from a disease of the mind in consequence of which he was deprived of the capacity to understand the nature and quality of that act or omission or to understand that it was wrong. It may also be argued that he was deprived of the capacity to choose whether or not to do that act of commission or omission.
According to law, every person is exempt from criminal responsibility if at the time of the act or omission complained of, such person was in a state of insanity; or was constrained by an external force that he could not resist.
If it is alleged or if there is reason to believe that the accused was insane at the time of the offence or that he is insane at the time of the inquiry, the court must appoint one or more experts to examine the accused and the facts relating to the alleged insanity.
If from the report of the experts, it appears that the accused was insane at the time of the commission of the offence, the court shall order that the record of the inquiry be transmitted to the Attorney General who can contest the finding of the experts that the accused was insane.
If contested, the AG must send back the record to the court of criminal inquiry with a written request that the inquiry into the merits of the case proceed or else file an application before the Criminal Court submitting the issue to that court, so that action may be taken.
If from the report of the experts, it appears that the accused was insane at the time of the inquiry, the court shall proceed with the inquiry into the merits of the charge.
It is not uncommon for a person to go to court and say that he is in a state of insanity, but this must be certified by professionals. The final decision is always made by the judge.
Legal experts noted that contrary to perception, people declared to be mentally ill at the time of the commission of a crime would not be able to leave the psychiatric hospital until they are certified to be mentally stable.
They said there have been cases in Malta where the accused spends more time at Mount Carmel Hospital than he would have spent in prison had he been found guilty of the crime in question.