Tensions ran high at the murder trial of Hugo Chetcuti on Friday as the victim’s brother-in-law cried, shouted and gestured while testifying and blamed himself for being an “idiot” by giving the accused another chance.
"My brother-in-law used to tell us to forgive, much as he himself did," wept Noel Falzon, a former operations manager at Bacco. He also used to look over the businessman’s other commercial establishments.
“Hugo was my god. He accepted me 21 years ago. He took him away from me," Falzon said as he pointed at Cmelik, seated at the dock.
"Why? Why,” shouted Falzon, despairingly, shaking his head as he bent over the witness stand behind the protective shield as the stunned jurors looked on.
After regaining his breath, Falzon continued.
Giving Cmelik a second chance
He explained how he first got to know the accused’s brother, Adam Mitic, who was one of his best bartenders but unable to speak English.
So when Bojan Cmelik (formerly Mitic) was fired from Hugo’s Terrace for failing to report for work on New Year’s Eve, Falzon decided to “give him another chance” and accepted Adam’s request for a job for his English-speaking brother.
His language fluency would also come in useful with other workers who did not speak English, a difficulty that had prompted management to introduce an English-speaking policy.
“That’s how I know this one here,” Falzon said, seemingly unwilling to pronounce the accused’s name.
“That’s what our boss told us. This one (again indicating Cmelik) took him away from us. Hugo told us to be kind. People who know Hugo Chetcuti, not those who talk bla bla bla… know that,” he said, breaking down in tears and putting his hands to his head.
Falzon went on to explain that he had not wished to return to the witness stand following his previous experience before the magistrates’ court.
“Why should I come here if last time this guy was laughing at me in court,” he shouted.
“Nobody is laughing at you Mr Falzon,” Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja calmly interrupted, asking the witness to calm down and take his time.
Falzon then said that the victim sometimes caught people stealing from him and still gave them a chance.
He explained how his nephew had convinced him to seek therapy in Spain to help him face the jury as a witness.
“My nephews took me to therapy in Spain and they helped me cope with this situation before you, the judge, the jury and Bojan Cmelik. Thank you Luke. The Spanish place was good. It worked. I think I’m doing a good job,” Falzon said.
Witness: 'This Mr Nobody took Hugo away'
He said that Chetcuti was his god.
“He accepted me 21 years ago… [Cmelik] took him away from me. Why? Why,” Falzon cried, his voice again in crescendo.
This “Mr Nobody” took Hugo away, the brother-in-law insisted as he called himself a “fool” and an “idiot” to have accepted him.
Falzon said that the accused had once told him that his mother was very grateful for what he had done for her sons.
After a brief pause, just enough to catch his breath and regain composure, the agitated witness recounted an episode when he had an issue with the accused over some lockers at the workplace.
“That was the only issue I had with Cmelik,” he said.
“He knows me fully. He was with me for a long time. I stopped him because of his attitude. I wouldn’t accept it. Even when he was twice his current size let alone now, this Mr Nobody,” Falzon shouted unable to calm down.
“Take a breath,” urged the judge as he asked if there were any further questions.
There were none so the witness was escorted out of the room under security, his eyes fixed on the man seated at the dock, turning round for one last look before exiting the courtroom.
“Ladies and gentlemen you deserve a break,” said the judge, as he suspended the hearing.
Footage of the stabbing
The jurors were later shown footage capturing the moment that the suspect, wearing a distinguishable straw hat, approached his victim holding a shiny object behind his back.
Court expert Martin Bajada had been tasked with gathering footage from various CCTV cameras in the Paceville area where Cmelik was spotted in the minutes leading up to the assault.
Working on information that the suspect had been wearing a straw hat, Bajada traced the man’s route through Hugo’s Bar where he visited the toilets and then walked back out, exiting through a second doorway leading to St Rita Steps.
He then went past Bar Native, approaching a group seated at a table outside a seafood and cocktail bar, his right hand held behind his back.
He walked up to a man in a white shirt, raised his left arm as though to hug him and immediately fled the scene with bouncers at his heels, while the victim staggered sideways leaning against the wall.
The suspect could be seen running all the way to St George’s Road, with several people giving chase.
Turning the focus back to the site of the stabbing, Chetcuti is seen walking up the steps to St George’s Road and shortly after heading back down the steps, closely escorted by a small crowd.
'The stranger with the funny hat'
A manager at Hugo’s Hotel gave a first-hand account of the incident, which transformed what was meant to be “a joyous” evening into the “most horrific event” of her life.
Caroline Barbara had just entered the seafood bar to get a drink when she caught sight of the stranger with “the funny hat”, whom she had seen that same afternoon at the hotel lobby, approach her boss as though to hug him.
She recalled how the victim fell to his knees, looked at her and pulled up his shirt saying, “he stabbed me, he stabbed me.”
Barbara was in shock as she rushed inside to fetch tissues or towels to stop the blood that began to flow heavily from the two wounds on Chetcuti’s abdomen.
“Paceville was packed that night,” said the witness, recalling that there were World Cup football matches at the time.
There was a lot of commotion as everyone sought to rush the victim to hospital.
'Catch him, catch him'
During the morning’s session, Chetcuti’s brother Isaac, recounted the stabbing episode from the minute that the tall, well-built stranger walked up as though to hug his brother.
Upon a request by the prosecution, the witness provided a visual reconstruction of the aggressor’s movements as his hand moved in two swift strokes against Hugo’s abdomen.
As the aggressor fled away, his brother cried out, “catch him, catch him.”
Following the events of that fateful night, he remained by his brother’s side “until the very end,” doing his best to reassure him that all would be fine.
When Chetcuti was nursed out of his induced coma on Saturday morning following emergency surgery, he had questioned why he had been targeted by the knife-wielding aggressor.
“I don’t know why. I don’t know why. I don’t know him,” the victim told his brother who tearfully recalled those words during his testimony.
The trial continues.