A man who allagedly strangled his partner to death and subsequently pleaded insanity when facing a criminal trial was capable of understanding and willing the course of his actions, a court has reaffirmed on appeal.

Michael Emmanuel, 29, was facing prosecution over the murder of Maria Lourdes Agius, the 35-year old mother of seven, three of them fathered by the accused, when his lawyers raised the plea of legal insanity, thus bringing about the suspension of the compilation of evidence while the plea was decided by a jury in July.

The jury had heard how on that fateful September morning in 2018, the accused had turned up at the Paola police station claiming that his partner could not be roused from her sleep. 

Officers making their way to the couple’s apartment had discovered the woman’s lifeless body, seemingly asleep, in bed.

The woman, who had filed earlier reports about episodes of domestic violence, was later certified as having been strangled to death, with medico-legal evidence indicating that she had died of asphyxia caused by pressure on the neck, that was compatible with fresh bruising on her face, neck and scalp.

Her partner was charged with wilful homicide, pleading not guilty and subsequently claiming to have been insane, in terms of law, when carrying out the actions which resulted in the woman’s death.

A court-appointed expert, who had spoken to the accused a month after the events of that fateful night, had concluded that the man harboured “some delusions of grandeur” and was “paranoidal towards his partner.”

On the basis of what the patient had recounted and after consulting Emmanuel’s psychiatric file, the expert had concluded that the man was acutely psychotic and thus insane according to the Criminal Code.

However, the jurors had not been convinced, turning down the plea by means of a verdict delivered on July 5, 2019. 

The Criminal Court of Appeal, presided over by Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon and Madam Justice Edwina Grima, confirmed that verdict for multiple reasons.

Firstly, the Court observed that there had been “no official medical or psychiatric record indicating that appellant suffered from a mental pathology” prior to or at the time of the alleged murder.

Although the man spoke of religious delusions, describing how the victim had asked him to remove a bad omen that was afflicting her, by placing a cross on her neck, the marks actually found on her body did not tally with the appellant’s version. 

Moreover, no evidence had been put forward to prove that the appellant, an Ivorian national, had a medical history of psychosis or a genetic trait in this regard, at least throughout the ten years he had been living in Malta.

Indeed, all police officers and civilian witnesses at the trial had never hinted at such “delusions”, their testimonies indicating that he had always been “coherent in his words and actions.”

When recalling his own actions on that fateful night, the appellant had explained how he had used his left hand when pressing down the cross on his victim’s neck, not only because his right hand was injured but also because he always used his left hand when doing something “unclean” according to the Bible.

There was nothing to counter the evidence that the appellant knew that his actions were wrong, the Court concluded, further noting that the court-appointed psychiatrist had not excluded that the psychosis could have developed after the traumatic experience. 

There was, however, evidence of a history of domestic violence which indicated “the violent nature of the appellant,” the Court observed, confirming the verdict and returning the acts of the case to the Magistrates’ Court for the compilation of evidence to proceed according to law.

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