WARNING: The story contains details some readers will find distressing
Abner Aquilina was filmed confessing to police that he murdered, then raped student Paulina Dembska and that Satan was telling him to "kill more people".
Extracts from police bodycam footage were read out in court on Friday as a magistrate found there was sufficient evidence for Aquilina to stand trial.
Aquilina, who was deemed mentally unfit to appear in court on Friday, denies raping and murdering the Polish woman by strangling her to death at Sliema's Independence Gardens early on January 2.
However Inspector Wayne Camilleri testified in court that Aquilina, from Zejtun, confessed to the murder after he was arrested at around 6am in connection with causing a commotion at a church in Balluta, St Julian's.
He was taken to Floriana health centre, where police bodycams recorded him telling officers that Satan had told him to do something and that he had carried out "33% of the plan".
"What’s done is done. I killed a person and then raped her," he said in the footage. "I didn't mean to hurt her so much. I first tried to attack two men, but then thought, better just one," he continued.
"They’re making me leave her and kill more people. The world would have ended…He told me to put the sperm inside….I didn’t want to give her my sperm because giving sperm is giving your soul," he said.
Asked how he killed the 29-year-old, Aquilina made signs of punching and kicking.
However, he did not repeat this admission during any of his six official interrogations, when his lawyer Mario Mifsud was present.
Mifsud questioned whether his client had been clearly told that he was being recorded. Inspector Wayne Camilleri said that Aquilina had been informed of the bodycams and at some points even spoke directly to the cameras.
During the official interrogation, however, police testified that he would speak of "frequencies" and "magnets controlling his brain" when he was pressed by officers about the detail of the attack or shown images of the victim's body.
At the end of the interrogation, he told police, with a sarcastic smile on his face, that their efforts were “A++. You were close” and that he was " close to admitting but you did not succeed".
The court also heard graphic detail about the injuries sustained by the victim, including that Aquilina may have used his keys to cause deep lacerations to her genitals during the attack.
Inspector Shaun Pawney also told the court about other reports from young women allegedly harassed by Aquilina in the past.
He allegedly text one young woman indicating he would have done something to her if her mother wasn't present and sent her a picture of a tissue soiled with sperm.
The victim's family was present for the first time in court on Friday.
At one point, during a break in proceedings, Aquilina's tearful mother and father approached Paulina Dembska's sister, who listened silently to what was being said.
When the case was last in court, a magistrate ruled Aquilina was insane at the time of the killing, after hearing the opinion of three psychiatrists.
It means the Attorney General must decide whether to proceed with an insanity trial (referred to as ġurin in Maltese) or continue the case, where the issue of insanity will be decided along with the rest of the case.
The prosecution has so far decided to proceed with the gathering of evidence.
This report includes detail of rape and murder that some people may find upsetting.
Sufficient evidence for Aquilina to stand trial
1.24pm After that final withess, the court declares there is sufficient prima facie evidence for Abner to stand trial. The case is adjourned until September 2.
Thanks to the thousands of readers who followed this blog. We will have a short summary above in a few minutes.
Personal information about patients
1.20pm After some discussion about the information on Aquilina's mental state being issued via email, the psychiatrist says that he is not aware of the procedure. He said that he has already spoken to the nurse concerned and adds that the matter was not under his control. He apologizes politely to the court. The magistrate points out that for future reference, personal information about patients are not to be forwarded by email but by means of a certificate to be handed to the defence to exhibit in court.
Psychiatrist takes stand
1.11pm Earlier the magistrate had called on a psychiatrist to testify whether Aquilina's psychological state was such that he could not attend today's hearing.
Psychiatrist Hector Cutajar takes the stand. He says that yesterday he examined Abner to certify if he was fit to appear in court and pronounced him unfit.
He hands over a certificate that reads: "He is currently unfit to attend court in his present mental state".
Defence raises objections
1.01pm Mario Mifsud asks if Aquilina was told "from the very start" that he was being recorded and that all he was saying was being registered by bodycams? And after he asked for a lawyer and Mifsud came along, was he being recorded too?
He also wants to know if, during the interrogation, one of the inspectors faced Aquilina with the allegation that he had “cut her up with a key” when that was not medically proven?
And what’s more, there was blood on the key, police challenged the suspect during interrogation.
Police were “not correct” in making those claims during interrogation, Mifsud argues.
12.46pm The lawyer asks about the lacerations to the victim's genitals. The inspector said the lacerations were long and deep and she was left "somewhat mutilated".
How did Aquilina react when asked about this, the lawyer presses.
All along, he said that he had no recollection of the incident because “of the magnets".
Did he tell you that he killed and raped her? Not in the interrogation but when talking to the bodycams, police said. He said that “he never meant to kill her".
With a sarcastic smile on his face, at the end of interrogations, Abner told police, “A±±. You were close.”
He said that right after police had switched off the tape, he said it spontaneously when on his feet and before he walked out of the interrogation room.
'I got myself into a fix'
12.52pm Asked whether Aquilina showed or spoke of remorse. The inspector says they put that question to him but he doesn't recall. He did not say during interrogation that he killed her. He said “dhalt f’wahda” (I got myself into a fix).
12.48pm Filletti, lawyer for the family, asks questions now. His questions revolve around Aquilina's psychological state - a key point in this whole case. Could you communicate with Aquilina and did he answer your questions?
There were long interrogations, over an hour and most of the time the conversation was normal, the inspector testifies. When Aquilina felt under pressure, he behaved “abnormally” and the police had to change tact.
At first he fidgeted on the chair and dropped to the floor. Police told him that he was being recorded and that the footage would be taken to court. It was useless behaving in that manner once he was certified as fit for interrogation, they told him.
Aquilina's pardon attempt
12.47pm Footage captured Aquilina’s departure from Zejtun, heading to St Julian’s, his incident with the two men and then the incident at Balluta church. He was escorted out of the church and placed on a bench. He refused to go into the police car saying he would only do so “if he got a paper from the president.” This seemed to be some sort of reference to a pardon, Inspector Pawney says.
With friend 15 minutes before attack
12.43pm Inspector Pawney describes Paulina's last known movements. She and her friend parted company just a quarter of an hour before the attack. They said goodbye opposite the Marriott. He headed to St Julian’s, she headed towards Sliema just as Abner emerged from the parking lot of the Marriott.
Her friend had met her that evening around 9pm at Tigne point, drank wine and then went to the hostel. They left at around 3am because of hostel policy. They hung around in the area before parting ways.
Used keys to assault her
12.41pm Pawney testifies that there were tears around the victim's vagina. Police suspect that Paulina might have been injured with Aquilina's keys during the attack.
Tendency to refer to films and history
12.37pm Inspector Pawney said Aquilina had a tendency to refer to films and history. He referred to warrior Genghis Khan and the novel The Clockwork Orange.
Aquilina sent woman photo of tissue soiled with sperm
12.33pm The inspector says that at the fourth interrogation all was going well but when they got to the stage about the murder, Aquilina began to behave strangely. He said he needed to go to the toilet and began to fart loudly.
Pawney also recalls a girl who reported that back in November last year, Aquilina had sent her messages. He had spotted her at Paola with her mum and he told her that if her mum weren’t present….he had also sent her a photo of a tissue soiled with sperm.
Another woman told police that she had been with Aquilina and had got a sexually transmitted disease. But that allegation could not really be proved since the woman had slept with other men.
Aquilina's behaviour under pressure
12.27pm The inspector testifies about Aquilina's behaviour during the first interrogation. He turned round and round on his chair and dropped to the floor but then he stopped.
Talk of “magnets” and so forth were only brought up by Abner when he felt “pressured.”
He recalled many details, such as the victim’s white cap but when police pressed further, he said that “the magnets were so strong that they had cancelled out all memory of those few seconds.”
Aquilina 'tried to escape'
12.21pm Pawney says Aquilina tried to escape when police moved in but then said he was scared because of the situation he had gotten himself into. He himself told police where to find his motorbike.
At the police depot, he put up some resistance when police tried to take fingerprints. But then calmed down. He spoke of “spirits.” There was footage from various cameras, recording everything.
There were six interrogations in all, the last on January 13.
12.16pm The inspector repeats some details we have already heard including that Aquilina was first arrested for causing a commotion at the Balluta church and then taken to Floriana health centre for his physical and mental state to be certified.
Inspector Pawney testifies
12.11pm Pawney says that he was on duty between 1 and 2 January when he was told about the discovery of the victim’s body by a foreign diplomat. He was the first one to report the body on the slope leading to the gardens.
She was certified dead and her body covered with someone's jacket.
12.10pm After that sad scene, we're back. Inspector Shaun Pawney is next to testify for the prosecution.
Accused's mother approaches victim's sister
12.04pm As the court takes a break, Aquilina's tearful mother approaches Paulina Dembska's sister. She listens silently as the mother of the man accused of murdering her sister speaks to her. Aquilina's father joins them.
After a brief conversation, they move apart. Aquilina’s mother takes her place in the middle, wiping her eyes with a tissue. Paulina’s relatives take their seats at the side of the courtroom. The hearing should resume soon.
11.53am The court has given a five-minute break. When we return, we will hear from the first eyewitness.
Defence lawyer says looking at photos was 'worst experience'
11.48am Mario Mifsud continues to press the inspector about how Aquilina was read his rights. Camilleri says it was all confirmed on bodycams.
Mifsud questions the police's version that Aquilina was “most normal” during interrogation. "Do you agree that he was speaking about 'waves' and 'rays' all along?" The inspector agrees.
Shown photos of the victim, Abner said, “it’s useless showing me these. I don’t know her.” As an aside Mifsud says that it was one of the worst experiences he personally went through when seeing those photos of the victim during interrogation. “I'm just doing my job here,” he adds.
'We had no idea he would spill out that he killed her'
11.36am It's the turn of the defence to pose questions. Among them, Mario Mifsud asks if Aquilina was aggressive at the polyclinic. No, Camilleri replies. Aquilina seemed agitated, walking up and down. He told Camilleri, “if you trust me, sit down and we’ll talk.” And that’s what the inspector did.
Why did you switch on the bodycams? That’s corps procedure, the inspector replies. Cameras are switched on when a person is escorted and Aquilina was warned about this. He knew so much that he occasionally peered towards the bodycams and spoke into the cameras.
When did you give him his rights? The defence lawyer presses on. Legal rights to a lawyer were given later because "we had no idea he would spill out that he had killed her", Camilleri replies. He was in a very agitated state.
Mifsud: "So why didn’t you ask for a psychiatrist?"
Camilleri: "Because we never imagined that he would say he killed her."
'Could distinguish right from wrong'
11.30am Filletti continues: "Was he asked if he was sorry?"
The inspector replies: "He made it clear that he distinguishes right from wrong, but did not want to say if he was sorry."
Although he said that afterward he went to church and was seen crossing himself many times. That was taken as some sign of remorse. He also said he never meant to hurt her "so much".
Fit to be interrogated
11.27am Stefano Filletti, lawyer for the victim's family, has some questions. During the interrogations, how was Abner’s behaviour? Was he in a state to answer? Yes.
In fact, the inspector says, in the first minute of the first interrogation, Abner dropped to the floor. But when police warned that those games would not work, Abner stopped. A psychiatrist in the magisterial inquiry had certified him as fit.
'I was close to admitting'
11.22am The Inspector's account of the interrogation continues. On the day of murder, he recalled parking his bike at the Marriott. He saw two men along the promenade. He whistled to them and asked where they were going. They ignored him and walked on. He put his keys in his fist, one key jutting out, and ran after them. But they got away.
He said Paulina’s name was not familiar. Shown images of her body, he made no reaction. He said he did not remember because “there were frequencies controlling his brain.”
Police used a laptop during the interrogation and showed him the footage. But he said nothing, appeared very uncomfortable, made no eye contact and even pulled his top over his head to hide away from the police gaze. “It’s the magnets that were controlling his brain.’
He said he was wearing a maroon top. He was not feeling cold that night. “Well done for the effort….I was close to admitting but you did not succeed,” Abner told investigators as hours of interrogation drew to an end.
Rejected by women
11.20 The inspector now talks about the interrogation. He highlights some points.
Aquilina described how he had been rejected by women and said it was easier to have sex with men. He described himself as bisexual.
He was also sexually abused as a teenager and his abuser had been jailed.
Chased two men
11.18am Aquilina was tracked to Marriott parking, where he headed out, then chased two men near Peppi’s Kiosk but they managed to slip away. Then he was captured by the same CCTV camera at a convenience store, just after Paulina went by.
Victim's last known movements
11.16am The victim last left the hostel around 2:00am on January 2 in the company of a male friend. They walked through Trophimus, then Rudolph Street and then parted ways. She headed on to the Sliema Promenade. At 4:38am CCTV from a convenience store metres away from the crime scene, last registered Paulina’s movements. That was when Paulina Dembska was last seen alive.
Her friend, a Columbian national, confirmed his walk with the victim.
11.13am An autopsy was carried out on the victim's body and the cause of death was strangulation. Her body had broken ribs and injuries compatible to what Aquilina had described. Her purple facial bruising all tallied.
She had internal injuries in her vagina, the inspector said, "as though something pointed had been inserted there".
Medical experts will shed more light on that, he added.
Eyewitness thought couple was having sex
11.11am A third party told police that at around 5am he saw a male in the entrance to the gardens. He thought he was doing press-ups. But approaching along the promenade he glimpsed a pair of female legs beneath him. The man was wearing a maroon top. He thought the man was having sex. “A normal occurrence in those areas at the time.” The witness was wearing headphones while listening to the rosary.
Staying with River of Love member
11.08am Police went to Aquilinas home and spoke to his mother. She told them he was a drug user and gambled money and was living at a nearby home of a member of the evangelical group River of Love. Had been staying there for three days.
His mother last saw Abner on January 2 morning. She was asleep and was woken up by his noise as he packed some personal items and told her he was off again.
11.06am Aquilina told police he had arrived on motorbike and so police began to look for it. Later that morning the Inspector was informed that at level -1 at Marriott Hotel they found his bike, with some blood traces on the handlebars.
'Kill more people'
11.03am More details of what Aquilina said, as recorded on police bodycam, are revealed in court.
"They’re making me leave her and kill more people. The world would have ended…He told me to put the sperm inside….I didn’t want to give her my sperm because giving sperm is giving your soul," he continued.
Charged with murder
11am Police read him his rights and told him that he was being charged not only over the incident in the Balluta church but also for murder.
“Today I did something bad," he continued to tell police. "I know I did something very bad. I left the parking as a different person. I didn’t stop with the help of god. But because I wanted to.”
Again Aquilina was given his rights and offered again legal assistance. And this time he wanted to speak to his lawyer Mario Mifsud.
Confession caught on police body cam
10.57am When police asked him how he killed the woman, Aquilina made signs of punching and kicking. "This means suicide for me," he told police. "You know a Clockwork Orange. See that film... that’s the story of my life," he told police.
All his words were captured on police bodycams.
He had a splattering of blood on his socks and his hands were bandaged.
'I killed a person, then raped her'
10.55am Aquilina told police that Satan had told him to do something. "I've only carried out 33% of the plan," he told them. He said that a woman entered the church. He began to follow her from the car park. He smelt her. She appeared to be Maltese, short, lumpy with red hair.
"I don't want to look at her ever again. What’s done is done. I killed a person and then raped her. I didn't mean to hurt her so much. I first tried to attack two men, but then thought better just one," he told police.
10.50am As we have previously heard, the on crime scene inspector Jonathan Ransley also turns up, informing Camilleri that at around 8am they got a call from St Julian’s police station to say that around 6am they had arrested Abner Aquilina after he created some commotion in church.
Aquilina told police that he had gone to church to seek a priest. Police noted some cuts on his hands. He was taken to Floriana health centre. When his parents turned up there, he told his parents to “go away because otherwise there’ll be two other victims.” Then he began to talk.
10.47am The inspector hands over these documents to the court along with a key card from the hostel where Paulina was living. Other documents include a business card from the place where she was staying and the victim's student card.
The victim was registered as "Ms X" until her identity was confirmed.
10.40am Camilleri runs through some of the details we have previously heard. Some readers might find these disturbing.
On January 2 morning he got a call from the control room about the lifeless and naked body of a woman. It was right opposite the Boris Arcidiacono showroom at the entrance to Independence Gardens, Sliema. Scene of Crime Officers were already there. A naked female body was lying face up, with the face purple and bruised. Next to her was a pair of shoes, a pair of jeans rolled up with her underwear tangled in it as though it was all pulled off at one go.
A branded cap and a white bag was next to the body. A lump of hair was stuck to the railing, the same colour as the victim's. Blood was splattered in the area. Her identity not yet known but in her jeans pockets some documents were visible. The inspector and his constable drew out those documents: a polish ID card, a credit card too. In all possibility, the victim was Paulina Dembska, of Polish nationality.
Victim's sister in court
10.38am For the first time, Paulina Dembska's family are in court to watch proceedings. Her sister is here as Inspector Wayne Camilleri from the homicide squad takes the stand to testify.
Psychiatrist ordered to come to court
10.36am Inspector Camilleri says he had received a second email from psychiatrist Hector Cutajar who had pronounced Aquilina not fit to attend court. Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia now orders the psychiatrist to come to court today to confirm this.
Email from Mount Carmel
10.32am Inspector Wayne Camilleri tells the court that he had simply received two emails yesterday afternoon. One email was from Jonathan Abela, a Mount Carmel Hospital senior staff nurse at 1:32pm from Seclusion Ward. Mifsud objects to disclosing the defendant's medical conditions in open court and asks that medical staff, preferably a psychiatrist testify in person.
Aqulina no show
10.27am Aquilina is not in court today as he has been pronounced “not fit to attend” the hearing. A heated argument breaks out with the victim's family's lawyer Stefano Filletti saying: “He was here last time and was smiling when the experts’ decision was delivered." He was pronounced not fit, and still is not fit,” rebuts Aquilina’s lawyer Mario Mifsud.