Defence lawyers representing the man accused of murdering Hugo Chetcuti have argued that mistakes made by hospital medics were partly responsible for the businessman’s death.
“We believe that a number of mistakes were made in hospital,” said defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace when making submissions on Monday morning, as the trial of Bojan Cmelik entered its later stage.
There were certain unmistakable facts such as the stabbing itself and the fact that Chetcuti eventually died of septicemia.
Eyewitnesses present at the time of the incident on that July 6 evening, three years ago, testified about how the tall stranger with the straw hat, had called out “Hugo” as he approached the victim, left arm extended as though to embrace him.
Footage from the scene of the crime showed the eight-second sequence of the aggressor approaching the victim, followed by a swift double movement with his hand as he appeared to embrace Chetcuti.
He then “flew” up St Rita Steps as a number of people chased after him.
Defence does not contest stabbing claims
Chetcuti was stabbed by the accused, Cmelik, and that was not being contested, said Cmelik’s lawyer.
But what happened in the interim period between that stabbing and the victim’s death by septicemia was the crux of the matter, and that was where an element of doubt arose.
“Where does the responsibility of the hospital supplant, if at all, that of the accused?” the defence argued, addressing the jurors as judges of fact.
According to the defence, the first mistake was the non-discovery of a perforation in the victim’s small bowels and secondly was the time it took for medics to proceed to a second surgical intervention.
“By that time, septicemia had set in,” pointed out Micallef Stafrace.
Resorting to a chain analogy, the lawyer argued that if one link was too weak to support the rest, the chain would snap. And so, in this case, was the medical intervention the cause that broke the chain?
Was death an inevitable result of the injury sustained, argued the lawyer, drawing the legal distinction between wilful homicide and grievous bodily harm followed by death.
“No more, no less.”
Yet prosecuting lawyer Kevin Valletta hit back at that argument, stressing that various factors indicated an intent to kill or place the victim’s life in manifest jeopardy rather than simply to cause grievous bodily harm.
Cmelik had clearly formed his intention beforehand, stated the prosecution lawyer.
The accused had approached his victim with a weapon.
“Not just a toothpick! And what a weapon! A fish filleting knife,” Valletta stressed, reminding jurors that at the time Chetcuti, a “bubbly type,” had been “minding his own business” and had welcomed the stranger who called out to him by name.
There was no provocation, he argued.
Moreover, it was no coincidence that at the very moment that Cmelik approached his victim there were no security officers around.
“He planned what he meant to do and chose the right time to do it.”
As for the doctors, they had done their utmost to save Chetcuti’s life, said Valletta, insisting that had they not operated him immediately upon admission, the patient would have died on July 6.
“There was no time to lose. It was a race against time at that stage.”
Alex Attard, Chetcuti’s personal consultant surgeon, was summoned to testify again on Monday as the very last witness before the prosecution rested its case.
After checking the medical file, Attard said that a nursing report covering the patient’s condition between 7:00pm on Saturday 7 and 7:30am the following morning, indicated that Chetcuti had been in a stable condition.
It was only around 9:00am on Sunday 8 that “certain parameters started to become abnormal.”
There was a specific protocol to be followed and resuscitation measures needed to be taken before further medical investigation could be carried out, explained the surgeon.
The patient was admitted to theatre for a second laparotomy at 2:00pm after a CT scan confirmed suspicions sparked by a distended abdomen.
“In medical terms, that is record time,” Attard told the jury this morning.
His return to the witness stand had been requested by the prosecution to rebut statements made by medico-legal expert Mario Scerri when testifying last week.
Scerri told jurors that the victim’s condition had begun to deteriorate on Saturday evening and that the decision to operate should have been taken immediately.
Attard was allowed to testify again limitedly on two questions which the court deemed could support the thesis of both prosecution and defence.
AG lawyer Maria Francesca Spiteri is also prosecuting. Lawyers Joe Giglio and Mario Spiteri are appearing parte civile.
The jury is still ongoing.
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