A man who defiled a 15-year-old girl has had his prison sentence reduced to just three years on appeal.

Deniro Bugeja’s original six-year prison sentence was halved to three because appeal court judges ruled that older criminal laws should have applied to his case, rather than newer, harsher ones that he was judged by.

Bugeja was convicted in March of having sex with a minor and being a recidivist. He was cleared of rape charges after a court said that it did not believe the child’s version of events, noting that medical examinations had found no evidence of coercion or a beating.

Prosecutors had alleged that Bugeja raped the child at his mother’s house to “teach her a lesson” after he discovered that she had been texting his current girlfriend.

They sought to have Bugeja jailed for anything between seven and 40 years.

Bugeja was 23 years old at the time.

But earlier this year, judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera cleared the accused of the most serious charges he faced and instead only found him guilty of the lesser charge of having sex with a minor – a crime listed in Article 204C of Malta’s criminal code. She sentenced him to six years behind bars.

The child in question had a “horrible obsession” with Bugeja that continued for years after the incident, the court noted, had admitted to having consensual sex with him on several occasions and had even gotten a tattoo of him.

Apart from being sentenced to six years in prison, Bugeja’s name was also added to a list of registered sex offenders.

The Cospicua native had immediately filed an appeal against the judgement, arguing that his six-year prison sentence was based on new legal amendments which should not have applied in his case.

Earlier this week, an appeals court made up of chief justice Mark Chetcuti, judge Edwina Grima and judge Giovanni Grixti agreed with that legal reasoning.

Amendments made to the criminal code in 2018 had increased the maximum prison sentence for defilement of a minor to 10 years, up from the previous five. The law was also changed to make defilement of a minor applicable when the victim was aged under 16, rather than under 18. Those amendments came into effect on May 14, 2018.

The appeals court noted that Bugeja and the child had started dating and having sex in September 2017, and it was this date which the original judgement referred to. At that time, older criminal provisions applied.

Bugeja had testified that he believed the child had turned 16 by May 2018, when he took her to his mother’s house and defiled her. The appeals court said that if it gave him the benefit of the doubt, he would not even have been found guilty of defilement of a minor under the new laws, as he believed the child was 16 and was therefore not a minor.

The appeals court therefore ruled that Bugeja’s six-year prison sentence should be reduced to three.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Charles Mercieca represented Bugeja.

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