Updated 6.53pm with mother's evidence below -
A panel of jurors on Monday heard a woman describe the last hours leading to her daughter's murder as they gathered evidence before being asked to decide whether the man accused of the murder was legally insane at the time of the crime.
Michael Emmanuel, a 28-year-old Ivorian national, is accused of murdering Maria Lourdes Agius, his 35-year-old partner and mother of seven children, two of them fathered by him. He brought about the suspension of the compilation of evidence in April after pleading legal insanity.
The plea was however contested by the Attorney General leading to the start of a trial on Monday morning wherein eleven ordinary citizens, seven women and four men, were empanelled to decide upon the issue.
The murder took place in their Paola apartment in September.
“The prosecution is not here capriciously. We are contesting his plea of insanity. You are here to serve justice, to do justice with the people, with the lady who has no voice here,” Charles Mercieca from the Attorney General’s Office said, in his introductory address to the jury.
You have to determine whether he was sane at the time when he strangled his partner, not before, not after, not now.
“We are saying that he was indeed sane at the time he took her life. You have to determine whether he was sane at the time when he strangled his partner, not before, not after, not now. When he was alone in that room, he knew what he was doing, he knew the consequences of his action. The voice of Maria Lourdes can only be heard through witnesses,” Dr Mercieca went on.
The victim’s lifeless body was discovered by the police in her bedroom, seemingly asleep, shortly after her partner had turned up at the local police station early on September 15 to report that the woman could not be roused from her sleep.
“One can be medically but not legally insane. In a court of law, insanity is the loss of capacity of understanding and knowing the difference between right and wrong,” explained Dr Mercieca, touching upon the issues which the jury would be called upon to assess.
“Maria Lourdes Agius was not in a relationship with a mad man, she did not bear children with a mad man. He knew the consequences of his actions. He knew that it was cold, calculated murder. At that fateful point on that night he took a decision which brought us all here today. He had time after the murder to mull over what he had done. He waited until dawn to report to the police,” argued the prosecuting lawyer, before giving way to the first witness.
He knew the consequences of his actions. He knew that it was cold, calculated murder.- Prosecution
Inspector Sarah Zerafa, stationed at the Paola police station at the time of the alleged murder, recalled how the woman had been lying on her right side on the bed, facing the wall, one arm covering her face and neck.
At first glance, a forensic doctor had said that the woman appeared to have died a natural death. However, when her arm was pulled down, the scratches around her mouth and marks on her neck indicated otherwise, the inspector explained.
The police officer had later been present at the autopsy where the cause of death was determined as asphyxia due to pressure on the neck.
Yet, later at the interrogation, the victim’s partner and prime suspect, repeatedly denied having killed the woman, insisting, “I don’t know,” over and over when asked about the injuries found on the victim’s body.
Victim's mother gives evidence, describes the deteriorating relationship
The victim's mother, Mary Agius, who used to live with the couple in Paola, described the deteriorating relationship and various violent episodes when she gave evidence on Monday afternoon.
“If he was unhappy with her, he ought to have taken his children and moved out. Your children are your flesh and blood, my daughter was my own flesh and blood. I forgive you but…..” said the visibly agitated woman, as she turned to face the accused, clutching Maria Lourdes’ memorial card closely to her chest, her trembling voice occasionally giving way to tears.
The widow recalled, sometimes pausing briefly looking down at her daughter’s picture, how the couple had at first lived at a rented Qawra flat before moving to the family apartment at Paola where the alleged murder took place.
Her daughter “had suffered much throughout her life, always trying to find a father for her children,” the mother explained, saying that her daughter had borne seven children, fathered by five men, the accused having fathered two.
“Mike” (the accused) was a good parent who helped with caring for the three kids who lived with the couple. He had a job as a plasterer and was intent on acquiring the Paola apartment where he was carrying out works, the mother said.
However, the couple’s relationship had degenerated, particularly over the last year, when violent arguments frequently erupted mostly over money matters and the fact that Lourdes’ former partner would sometimes visit his child at the Paola flat.
“I would advise her not to let other men into the flat. I was afraid of men fighting,” the fragile-looking witness recalled.
“Mike” also lost his temper when her daughter would use money to do her hair and nails, the witness said. “He always insisted that we should first buy things for the children and then for the house.”
“What are you going to give the children?” he often asked his partner’s mother whom he called “Ma’.”
During an incident, when the witness had stepped in during one of the couple’s rows, the accused had punched her head and had flung a heavy chair at Lourdes’ back, she said.
She recalled her daughter telling her: On Friday it’s you in an ambulance, on Saturday it will be me in a hearse.”
“I was angry. At the time I recalled when, few months earlier, my daughter had ended up at the ITU in critical condition after giving birth to her last child. How could he treat her so?” said the mother, adding that she used to advise her daughter not to bear more children.
After that incident, the accused had told her, “No dress, no shoes, out, out!” kicking her out of the flat. She was taken to hospital where she had opened up to a doctor, telling him how she and her daughter were threatened.
A police report had been filed and mother and daughter had been warned to call for help should Mr Emmanuel turn up again.
Recalling the hours leading to the alleged murder, the witness said Michael Emmanuel did return, kicking the door of the common entrance and demanding to see his son.
The mother had warned her daughter not to let him in, but the latter had not taken heed and had thrown down the keys, letting him inside.
“Nothing happened. Lourdes went shopping,” the accused had told her when she saw him early next morning.
Slipping past him, she had gone to the bedroom where her daughter lay still under the bedsheets. Touching the woman’s thigh, she immediately sensed that she was dead. “I love you,” the mother had murmured.
She returned to the room when the police arrived some time after the accused had filed a report.
“I didn’t speak to him after that. Lourdes would not be brought back to life,” the mother went on.
She also recalled how some three weeks before, she had spotted a burnt doll on the kitchen roof and found a lit candle in the stairwell, thinking it was for her husband who had passed away but later suspecting that it might have had Ouija board implications.
When confiding in a priest, he had told her, “Tell Lourdes to come to me at once. That’s a sign that he’s going to kill her or you.”
However her daughter had not heeded her advice. “Perhaps none of this would have happened had she done so.”
Under cross-examination the woman said that she had not told the police at first that she had already entered the bedroom alone.
She also said that she had discovered three of her daughter’s teeth under a bedside carpet after the police had left.
One juror asked her what she understood by ‘ouija board,’ to which the woman replied, “Someone is going to kill you.”
The victim’s brother brought Monday’s afternoon session to a close saying that he had once argued with the accused and had called the police. He had immediately “sensed,” that the man was not ideal for his sister but failed to explain why, even when asked directly by the court.
“I didn’t want to cause trouble. So I stayed away. When I faced my sister about it, she had taken it badly,” Mr Jean Paul Agius said.
The trial continues on Tuesday.
Lawyer Matthew Xuereb is also prosecuting.
Lawyers Marc Sant and Dustin Camilleri are defence counsel.