A man who murdered an elderly couple at their Sta Luċija home 11 years ago will spend the rest of his life behind bars after an appeal court turned down his request for his jail term to be reduced.

A jury had found Brian Vella guilty of the murder of his neighbours, 79-year-old Gerald Grima and his 63-year-old wife Josephine, whom he gagged and bound in their apartment on February 10, 2000. He was convicted to life imprisonment.

“Here we have a brutal case where two people’s lives were ended abruptly in a cruel way. Whoever did this has to pay for his actions through an adequately harsh punishment,” the appeal court ruled.

The decomposed bodies of the Grima couple had been found in their home a week later. A post mortem revealed they died as a result of asphyxia due to gagging and that Mr Grima’s cause of death also included intracranial haemorrhage.

Police investigations led to the arrest of Dominic Bonnici and Mr Vella. Mr Bonnici was jailed for 30 years after he admitted to his involvement in the double murder.

In his testimony at Mr Vella’s trial, he explained to jurors how he and Mr Vella had barged into the Grimas’ apartment, bound and gagged them and ransacked the place. They stole about €460 worth of items. Mr Vella’s trial was originally scheduled to be heard in 2004 but the proceedings were dissolved on February 4 of that year after the evidence of the co-accused, Mr Bonnici, was deemed inadmissible at that stage.

The trial was then appointed to January 10, 2006 but it was dissolved the following day for a second time when the Police Commissioner’s evidence was deemed prejudicial by the court.

A legal battle ensued in which Mr Vella filed a constitutional application claiming that his right to a fair hearing had been breached. But, in May 2007, the First Hall of the Civil Court dismissed his application and cleared the way for the trial to start in October 2007.

After seven hours of deliberation, jurors returned a 6-3 verdict finding Mr Vella guilty of the murder. A few days later Mr Vella filed an appeal arguing that he had been wrongly convicted and requesting that his punishment be reduced.

Mr Justice David Scicluna, Mr Justice Joseph Micallef and Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon, sitting in the Court of Criminal Appeal, found that jurors had been justified in returning a guilty verdict. They said Mr Vella deserved a severe punishment for the brutal act he had committed.

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