Two brothers accused of having planted and detonated a bomb that killed journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia dramatically admitted to the crime on Friday, hours after their trial by jury began.
Alfred and George Degiorgio were pleading not guilty to the October 16, 2017 assassination and faced up to two life sentences in prison if found guilty.
But just hours after nine jurors and five substitutes had been selected and taken an oath, the brothers opted to switch their plea and admit to the crime.
They follow in the footsteps of a third man who was arrested and charged alongside them, Vince Muscat, who pleaded guilty and turned state’s witness last year. He is now serving a 15-year sentence for the murder.
- Guilty: Degiorgio brothers admit to killing Daphne
- How family, friends, politicians reacted to the guilty plea
- 'Perhaps I'll see you in hell': George Degiorgio's pre-trial outburst
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Live blog ends
8.30pm This live blog will end here. Thank you for having joined us throughout the day.
Daphne Foundation receives EU prize
8.23pm What a day for the Caruana Galizia family.
A foundation set up by the family to protect and promote her work and safeguard freedom of the press is one of 30 European winners of the EU's annual Citizen's Prize.
The foundation beat nine other local nominees to the gong, which Matthew Caruana Galizia accepted on its behalf.
“What I really wish is that it was my mother accepting this award today, and not me,” he said.
More about the award here.
Bernard Grech: we must push for the entire truth
8pm Opposition leader Bernard Grech is pleased to see "another step" towards justice for the family. Now the job must be seen to completion, he says.
"It's only then that this country can start healing from what this murder put it through," he writes.
Andrew Caruana Galizia: we owe my mother
7.52pm Andrew Caruana Galizia's first thoughts following the courtroom outcome are for his mother and the nation-changing impact of her work."All I can think of is how much we owe my mother," he writes.
Justice Minister thanks all involved
7.49pm Justice Minister Jonathan Attard has also acknowledged the verdict and sentence meted out to the Degiorgio brothers and thanked all those involved in the case, from start to finish.
That includes the media, he says, saying it “sated people’s thirst for information, in the right measure, throughout this historic time”.
Prime Minister reacts: 'commitment to full justice'
7.42pm The government has issued a statement reacting to the courtroom outcome.
"This is an important step forward, to deliver justice in a case that represents a dark chapter in Malta’s history," the statement reads.
"The prime minister reiterates the government’s commitment to deliver full justice to the Caruana Galizia family, and to the Maltese people."
Matthew Caruana Galizia: 'five years is far too long'
7.33pm Daphne Caruana Galizia's son Matthew has just left the Valletta courthouse.
He says he's relieved about the outcome, but that there are other cases to resolve now.
"Five years is far too long," he told us.
Degiorgios imply they have more to reveal
7.25pm But it's not over yet, the brothers are determined to say something to the family.
Alfred Degiorgio finds the energy to stand to his feet and turns to Peter Caruana Galizia, Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi.
"If you want to know the whole truth, any lawyer who comes [to me] will know," he says.
George Degiorgio chimes in: "Now you will know the whole truth, whoever was involved either way," he says.
George tries - and fails - to speak to victims
7.16pm There's one final moment of courtroom drama, as George Degiorgio asks if he may address Caruana Galizia relatives who are in the courtroom.
But the family members are not interested in hearing what the self-confessed killer has to say.
"Take them out!" they shout out in reply.
George Degiorgio shakes his head as prison guards move to escort him away.
Court expenses and confiscated cash
7.13pm Apart from the prison sentence, the court orders the confiscation of around €50,000 deemed to be the proceeds of crime from each of the brothers and also orders each of them to pay roughly €43,000 in court expenses within three years.
Degiorgio brothers sentenced to 40 years in prison
7.07pm The judge hands down 40-year prison sentences to George and Alfred Degiorgio for having murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia.
They must also pay expenses and have all criminal proceeds confiscated.
In the end, the judge stuck to the plea bargain terms agreed upon between the defence and prosecution.
The brothers will serve significantly less than that 40-year sentence, assuming they behave well while in prison. But given that they are now 59 and 57 years old, they will both be old men if they make it out of prison while still alive.
7.05pm Judge Edwina Grima takes her place and once again asks the brothers if they confirm their guilty plea.
Lawyers in place, court to deliver sentence soon
6.58pm Lawyers have taken their respective places and court staff are preparing for the judge's return.
We expect the judge to return and deliver sentencing very soon.
Jason Azzopardi praises Philip Galea Farrugia
6.54pm Caruana Galizia lawyer Jason Azzopardi says it’s a day unlike any other in Maltese criminal history and says he was proud to have played a part in this outcome.
“There’s a lot more to do, but we’ll get there,” he writes.
Azzopardi also goes out of his way to praise deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia: “the country owes you, Philip,” he notes.
David Casa: Everyone needs to be brought to justice
6.49pm MEP David Casa has also offered his take on events, and he speaks similarly to his colleague Metsola.
"For there to be justice for Daphne, everybody involved needs to be brought to justice. Not just those who planted the bomb and set it off. But those who ordered her to be killed. And those in office who bent over backwards to protect them," he writes.
Cleaned up court
6.35pm Court staff have cleared up the jurors' benches, and those boxes of evidence that the deputy AG pointed to earlier are nowhere to be seen.
Defence lawyer Martin Farrugia sits alone, typing on his laptop.
And we've spotted two other familiar faces in the courtroom - superintendent Keith Arnaud and inspector Kurt Zahra, the police officers leading the prosecution of this case. They were present when the guilty plea was registered.
Metsola: 'Today is not justice, it is a small step'
6.15pm European Parliament president Roberta Metsola has also offered her first take of the courtroom development.
"This is not justice," she writes. "Daphne still cannot write her blog, enjoy her children and grandchildren, potter in her garden or be with her loved ones."
Metsola is already looking forward: "Now for those who ordered and paid for it, those who protected them and those who spent years doing everything imaginable to try to cover it up… " she writes, trailing off.
'A break in the clouds'
6.04pm One of Daphne Caruana Galizia's sons, Paul, is among the first to react to the verdict.
"A break in the clouds," he tweets.
It's still too early to know for sure, but the Degiorgios' guilty plea potentially paves the way for them to be presented as witnesses in separate cases concerning the murder, such as that against Yorgen Fenech for conspiracy or Robert Agius tal-Maksar and Jamie Vella for having supplied the lethal bomb.
Sentencing in 30 minutes
6pm Judge Edwina Grima suspends proceedings for 30 minutes, to give her time to deliver judgment.
Grima will be tasked with deciding just how long the Degiorgio brothers will be spending behind bars.
5.59pm Jurors are called back into the courtroom – it’s been a long wait for them.
The judge informs them that the accused have admitted to the charges, thanks them for their civic duty and tells them they are free to go home.
What was shaping up to be a weeks-long slog ends with them making it home in time for dinner.
Prosecutors seek 40-year prison sentence
5.55pm Prosecutors tell the court they are seeking a 40-year prison sentence for the brothers. They've presented a joint application along with the defence to that effect.
Two important reminders:
- The Degiorgios faced two life sentences in prison if they were found guilty by a jury.
- A judge is not bound to follow the recommendations made in a plea deal and can decide to sentence guilty parties as they see fit.
In other words, while the Degiorgio brothers will be hoping that their admissions secures them some leniency, that's by no means guaranteed.
5.52pm George Degiorgio is asked to stand.
"How do you plead?" he is asked.
"Ħati (Guilty)," he replies.
A weak-looking Alfred Degiorgio remains seated as he is asked the same question. He mumbles a reply.
"Speak up please," he is asked.
"Ħati," comes the reply.
Both are asked if they would like to reconsider.
"Ħati, ma'am," they both tell the judge.
Guilty to all charges
5.48pm The judge says the brothers are pleading guilty to all charges.
They have been examined by a doctor (Mario Scerri) and psychiatrist (Beppe Micallef Trigona). Both present their findings.
Scerri says Alfred Degiorgio's vital signs are all OK.
Micallef Trigona says both appear to be of sound mind and understand what they are doing.
Degiorgios to plead guilty
5.46pm COURTROOM DRAMA: Defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace says his clients are to plead guilty.
"Their position has changed. .. they declare they are guilty," he tells the court.
Judge in court
5.45pm Judge Edwina Grima has returned to court.
We're still here...
5.30pm ...but the protagonists are not.
Still no sign of life in this case.
There are plenty of rumours swirling around, but no official statements or explanations. People seated patiently in the courtroom have now taken the opportunity to stretch their legs and have a chat.
Parte civile lawyers chat among themselves. Occasionally, defence lawyers appear to have a brief word with the prosecution before disappearing again.
There's a palpable sense that something is afoot.
Papers from the bench
4.20pm The court usher who previously escorted lawyers back returns to the courtroom – but only to collect all the papers gathered on the judge’s bench.
The plot thickens.
Lawyers invited out
4.10pm A court usher has asked lawyers for all parties - prosecution, defence and parte civile - to follow her out of the courtroom.
Signs of a return
4pm Prosecution and defence lawyers are now entering the courtroom, one hour after the case was scheduled to resume.
Why the delay? We're not sure, though the judge may explain its cause when she returns.
3.32pm We’re late to resume – significantly so. And it’s not clear why.
Earlier, we spotted the Degiorgio brothers having a word with one of their lawyers, as they waited for the judge and jury. But now neither they nor their lawyers appear to be in the courtroom, either.
3.14pm The courtroom is filling up again following a lunch break, though the jury and judge have yet to return. We expect that to happen within minutes.
Anti-delay legislation to be fast-tracked
2.57pm Proceedings in court have not yet resumed, but here's another related titbit.
Earlier today, the home affairs minister said that legislation intended to block courtroom delaying tactics is to be fast-tracked into law.
The changes would penalise defendants who intentionally delay court proceedings in the hope of automatically getting bail if 30 months elapse from when they are indicted.
Under local law, a defendant is automatically granted bail if they are not served with a bill of indictment within 20 months of being charged, or if their trial does not begin within 30 months of that indictment.
Both sides of parliament have made it clear they back the legislative changes, so it’s now just a matter of days before the bill becomes law.
There's no chance of the changes impacting this case - the trial is now under way - but they might be of interest to Yorgen Fenech's legal team. Fenech's case for complicity in Caruana Galizia's murder remains ongoing, with the clock ticking and no trial date in sight.
Meanwhile, away from court
1.45pm It’s been five years since Caruana Galizia was murdered, and activists, friends and family have worked hard to put on countless events to mark that sad milestone.
Don’t expect Robert Abela to attend any of them, though: the prime minister made it clear to us earlier this morning that he doesn’t think he needs to do that to pay his respects or honour her memory.
The fifth anniversary of the murder falls on Sunday. Abela will be addressing a Labour Party event in Żebbuġ that morning.
1.11pm It’s a dramatic end to the deputy attorney general’s introduction: the judge has paused proceedings for lunch.
The case will resume at 3pm.
Burner phones and text messages
1.09pm There was one phone number which went dead right after the explosion that killed Caruana Galizia. It was traced thanks to FBI work, Galea Farrugia tells the jury. And there was another phone number, which was activated on the same day that the bomb went off.
The SIM card was activated at 1.51am but the phone was inactive until 3pm that day, the time of the detonation. The message to detonate the bomb was sent from that phone number.
All three of the men’s personal phone numbers were traced to Bidnija on the night before the murder. They opened the victim’s car – they had practiced on a similar model beforehand – and placed the bomb under the driver’s seat.
At 6.30am on the day of the murder, George Degiorgio’s phone was traced to a potato shed in Marsa and then to sea.
George Degiorgio got on his cabin cruiser and headed out to sea, along with his phones. But he made a mistake. His phone ran out of credit, so he called a friend and asked for a top-up. Cell towers showed he was close to Valletta at that point.
The other two hung around in Bidnija to keep watch, the deputy AG says. Investigators would find a cigarette butt at a vantage point that was a match for Alfred Degiorgio’s DNA.
When he saw Daphne Caruana Galizia exit her house, Alfred called his brother on his burner phone. But Caruana Galizia had forgotten a chequebook, so she headed back inside. The brothers remained on the phone until she came back out and got into the car.
At that point, George Degiorgio sent the text message #rel1=on
The message triggered the explosion.
“We all know the consequences,” Galea Farrugia says.
Planning the murder
12.59pm Galea Farrugia now begins to present the prosecution’s case.
In April 2017 a “person” [Yorgen Fenech] who is facing separate proceedings approached Melvin Theuma and asked him to find someone to kill Daphne Caruana Galizia.
He mentioned George Degiorgio, known as iċ-Ċiniz.
Theuma met with Alfred Degiorgio and put the proposal to them. During a second meeting held at Busy Bee café, Degiorgio told Theuma they would do it for €150,000 and a €30,000 deposit. Theuma paid Alfred Degiorgio the deposit.
There were to be three hitmen: the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat, who has admitted to the crime and will be testifying in the case, Galea Farrugia tells jurors.
The deputy AG continues: The trio bought binoculars and began to surveil Caruana Galizia. “We’ll take you onsite to show you exactly,” he tells the jurors.
At first, they thought about shooting her with a rifle. But George Degiorgio chose otherwise.
They bought burner phones, to use only among themselves. Cell tower data showed how the burner phones always moved in tandem with George and Alfred Degiorgio’s, as well as Vince Muscat’s, personal numbers. This went on for weeks.
Hearing testimonies, asking questions
12.50pm The courts have heard testimony from countless witnesses, experts, police officers, data analysts and many others over the past years.
Now, the jury will hear those testimonies all over again. And they will be able to ask questions about what they testify.
It is the jurors who must be satisfied with the proof provided, he reminds the five men and four women who will decide this case.
Leave your prejudices at the door
12.40pm Everyone knew who Daphne Caruana Galizia was, Galea Farrugia tells the jury. But apart from her public role, she was a mother and a daughter.
It is irrelevant whether she was liked or disliked, whether they sympathised with what she wrote, or not. That has nothing to do with the case, the deputy AG tells the jury.
Malta's biggest-ever investigation
12.45pm Galea Farrugia runs through the charges that the accused face and tells the jury they will be presented with evidence for each of those charges.
“We’ve been collecting evidence for five years,” he tells them as he points towards brown cardboard boxes near the judge’s bench. “Look at all those boxes.”
If the jury has any doubts about the importance of this case, Galea Farrugia quickly dispels them: “It’s the biggest investigation ever carried out in Malta,” he says.
Prosecution starts its case
12.38pm The prosecution starts its case. And as is tradition, it does so with an introductory speech, known as a rekwizitorja in legal parlance.
Deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia does the honours, introducing himself, his colleagues and the parte civile lawyers to jurors. The attorney general represents the state, he explains to them.
The AG’s job is to present evidence without taking sides. Jurors are not “spectators”, he tells them. They play an integral role in the administration of justice.
Caruana Galizia family members will be testifying
12.28pm The case is about to resume.
Before it does, the prosecution makes it clear that Peter and Matthew Caruana Galizia – the husband and son of the murder victim – will be testifying in the case.
Prosecutors ask the defence if they have any objection to the two remaining in the courtroom. Typically, witnesses are not allowed to follow a case before they testify. The defence says it has no objection.
And now, the jury can be brought back into the courtroom.
How long in prison?
12.16pm The Degiorgio brothers are staring down the barrel of lifetime prison sentences if found guilty. They face six separate charges. Here's what each one comes with.
Wilful homicide - life imprisonment.
Causing a fatal explosion - life sentence.
Illegally possessing explosives - up to 12 years in prison.
Criminal conspiracy - between 20 and 40 years in prison. Promoting, aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy - four and 20 years in prison.
Actively conspiring together with others to commit murder - four and 20 years in prison.
In Maltese law, sentences are served consecutively rather than concurrently.
A 30-minute break
11.49am The judge is done speaking, and the jury is given a short break.
They file out of court one-by-one and will now prepare for what will be some of the most important days of their lives.
Meanwhile, the judge orders that Alfred Degiorgio be kept under constant medical supervision, even while back behind bars at Corradino Correctional Facility.
The case is scheduled to resume at 12.10pm.
How the trial will proceed
11.44am The judge is still speaking, explaining the trial process to the jury.
The jury may ask questions about testimony and if those questions are valid, the witness will be asked to answer them. If they need a break or something explained to them, they may ask the court to do so. They will be given material from the trial while deliberating on the verdict.
When the judge is done speaking, the case will adjourn briefly to give jurors some time to gather some personal belongings (and themselves). And then proceedings will begin in earnest.
The prosection will go first, presenting its evidence.
Then the defence will present witnesses, if it wishes to, and decide if the accused are to testify. As said previously, they have the right to remain silent and that does not imply guilt in any way.
Finally, the judge will summarise the witness’ testimony.
Jurors cannot communicate with anyone – even the judge – except for in open court.
Substitute jurors will follow the case from start to finish, but will only deliberate if they need to replace any of the nine jurors.
Degiorgio's courtroom outburst: 'see you in hell'
11.36am George Degiorgio spent years sitting silently in prison, saying nothing about the case.
But he’s become more loquacious in recent months. Earlier this summer, he effectively confessed to the murder while speaking to a Reuters journalist and described it as “just business”. [This conversation, revealed in the Who Killed Daphne podcast, has so far not been submitted as evidence in this case so will not be considered by jurors].
And earlier this morning, before the judge had entered the courtroom, he let rip with an outburst which ended with the somewhat ominous words “perhaps we'll meet in hell”.
You can read more about that invective in our article about it.
Four key legal principles
11.33am The judge walks the jury through four key legal principles that they will need to keep in mind throughout the trial.
- Presumption of innocence. The Degiorgios are presumed innocent until proven guilty. “You cannot start from the idea that they are guilty because they’re in the dock,” the judge tells the jury.
- Burden of proof It is the prosecution that must prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the accused are guilty. Not vice-versa.
- Right to silence. The accused have the right to remain silent. They can choose not to utter a word, and that does not infer that they are guilty or have something to hide. Related to this: what one accused says does not apply to the other. If one tries to blame the other, that is not proof against the other.
- Doubts go the accused’s way. Any reasonable doubt goes in favour of the accused. If the defence proves on a balance of probability that what they say is so, they will prove their innocence.
Foreign observers among those attending
11.26am The trial is being heard in hall 22, which is one of the Valletta law courts’ largest halls.
It's a packed courtroom, and among those attending are representatives from the European Centre for Press & Media Freedom, Article 19, International Press Institute, European Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists - all international organisations focused on issues surrounding media freedom.
Judge instructs the jury
11.15am With all the charges read out, judge Edwina Grima will now begin the trial with a brief speech which includes instructions to the jury.
“Your duty is to be judges of facts,” she tells them. They may have no legal training, but they are capable of doing this by carrying their task according to legal rules.
“You are the judges of fact and no one can interfere with that. I will guide you on the legal matters,” she reassures them.
”You will hear the evidence put forward by the prosecution. We started with the bill of indictment… please note that that is only what the attorney general says,” the judge tells jurors.
“You must only decide on evidence to be produced. You must come here a clean slate. A lot has been said about this case. But you must forget all that. You must not be prejudiced. Prejudice is the enemy of judgment.”
“Your judgment must be free of all outside influence, no one and nothing. Your judgement must be unbiased.”
How was the jury selected?
11.10am We told you earlier that the jury is made up of five men and four women.
If you’d like to read more about how the jury was selected in this case, read our separate article about that.
What the Degiorgio brothers are charged with
11.04am The Degiorgio brothers face a number of major criminal charges.
- Wilful homicide on October 16, 2017
- Causing a fatal explosion
- Illegally possessing explosives
- Criminal conspiracy
- Promoting, aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy
- Actively conspiring together with others to murder
The bill of indictment, which the registrar is still reading out, goes into some detail about how the two accused men are alleged to have committed each of those acts: from conspiring with others to carry out the murder to acquiring the explosive, planting it in Caruana Galizia's car and detonating it while out at sea. All this was planned meticulously, prosecutors charge.
Jurors sworn in, read indictment
10.57am Jurors were all asked to take an oath, swearing that they will not speak to anyone except each other until they have reached a verdict.
It is only then that they are given the details about the case they will be deliberating: arguably the biggest murder trial in Maltese criminal history.
A court deputy reads out the bill of indictment and runs them through the facts of the case: Caruana Galizia was blown up in her car, and investigations involving the FBI and Dutch security service led police to the Degiorgio brothers and Vince Muscat.
Another failed Degiorgio bid
10.51am Earlier, the Degiorgios’ lawyer said that they have asked the Constitutional court to suspend the trial, because they have not had enough time to prepare for it.
Judge Edwina Grima, who is presiding over this case, now informs the defence that their request has been refused by that court.
It's the latest in a long list of attempts by the Degiorgios to have the case dismissed.
They have requested presidential pardons, filed constitutional objections, objected on fair trial grounds. They have even argued, after they were unable to find a lawyer, that being assigned a legal aid lawyer is a breach of their rights.
All those legal avenues turned out to be dead-ends. And then Alfred Degiorgio went on hunger strike, leading to further delays.
Who are the lawyers?
10.49am Deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia and Giannella Busuttil are leading the prosecution. The Degiorgio brothers are being represented by lawyers Simon Micallef Stafrace and Martin Farrugia, from the court’s legal aid system.
They were assigned to the brothers after their original lawyer, William Cuschieri, resigned his brief.
The Caruana Galizia family is being represented by lawyers Therese Comodini Cachia and Jason Azzopardi.
Jury of five men and four women
10.44am Hello and welcome to this live blog of the first day of the trial of Alfred and George Degiorgio.
Proceedings in court began a while ago, but the media was precluded from reporting anything until a jury was composed.
That has now happened, with five men and four women selected to sit on the nine-person jury. Five substitute members have also been nominated.