Melvin Theuma's courtroom return ended with nothing accomplished on Monday, with a defence lawyer's legal objections meaning the self-confessed Caruana Galizia murder middleman did not even make it into the courtroom.
Theuma was due to face cross-examination by lawyers representing the three men accused of murdering Caruana Galizia, Degiorgio brothers Alfred and George and Vince Muscat.
But lawyer William Cuschieri, representing the Degiorgios, insisted his clients did not want cross-examination to proceed unless a full set of recordings made by Theuma were presented in court.
The court had refused that request last week, deeming some of the recordings irrelevant to proceedings, in a decision which led the Degiorgio brothers to lash out at magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit.
With Cuschieri adamant and Vincent Muscat's lawyer Marc Sant indisposed, the court was on Monday forced to put off proceedings to February 3, when Sant must indicate whether he wishes to cross-examine Theuma.
Theuma, who was sitting in the law court corridors waiting to be summoned to testify, left without having entered the courtroom.
The case will resume at 9.30am on February 3.
Theuma, a taxi driver who has obtained a presidential pardon in exchange for turning state's witness, says he acted as a middleman to fix the assassination between business tycoon Yorgen Fenech and the alleged hitmen.
He was last seen in court in June 2020. One month later, Theuma was hospitalised after being found inside a bathroom with knife wounds to this throat and abdomen, which he says were self-inflicted. He was due to testify in the compilation of evidence against Fenech the following day.
Theuma has spent the past months recovering from that medical trauma. He was summoned to testify after a court heard testimony from psychiatrists overseeing his care.
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As it happened
Theuma remains in corridor
2.35pm It was meant to be Theuma's return to the witness stand, but the middleman did not even make it into the courtroom.
What was meant to be a high-stakes court hearing ends with nothing accomplished.
The court will reconvene on February 3 at 9.30am
Case put off to February 3
2.34pm The magistrate says she must postpone the case to February 3, to hear what Vince Muscat’s lawyer Marc Sant has to say about cross-examining Melvin Theuma.
The Degiorgio brothers have a word with their lawyer and then walk out calmly, unlike last week.
2.31pm Jason Azzopardi also has something he’d like to minute: it concerns the commotion that arose at the end of last week’s court session.
Azzopardi says George Degiorgio yelled out “Sur Azzopardi issa naraw ta’ min se tgħaddi” (We’ll see who gets his way, Mr Azzopardi) and that the two Degiorgio brothers spoke disparagingly about him and the attorney general’s lawyer.
Cuschieri insists his clients said nothing menacing and made no threats. What they said about Azzopardi is that he had visited the tomb of Christ, he says. [This is a reference to a public spat concerning the lawyer].
2.24pm Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks the court to minute that the defence is refusing to cross-examine the witness.
Cuschieri objects. "I'm not refusing or renouncing my brief," he says. "My clients do not want evidence to be presented piecemeal. They want all the recordings [to be heard] before cross-examination proceeds."
The magistrate takes note of Cuschieri's position and says she will wait to hear what position Vince Muscat's lawyer, Marc Sant, will take.
'I won't carry out cross-examination'
2.20pm The magistrate asks whether she can deliver a decree on this matter.
Cuschieri - who minutes ago was told off for complaining ("uff, xi dwejjaq", he had said out aloud) - digs his heels in.
"Do as you please, but I don't think it's necessary. Whatever the decree, I cannot continue cross-examination without all the recordings."
The magistrate says the criminal court's decree must be carried out.
Cuschieri: "I won't carry out cross-examination. That's my clients' position. I cannot do otherwise."
Where’s Koħħu’s lawyer?
2.17pm Vince Muscat’s lawyer Marc Sant is conspicuous by his absence today. We’re told he’s in self-isolation.
Which recordings are relevant?
2.12pm Cuschieri makes his arguments in favour of having all recordings heard. He is followed by deputy attorney general Philip Galea Farrugia, who notes that a court decree had ordered that all recordings deemed relevant to the case - not all recordings - be exhibited.
The defence has the right to disagree, he says, but their constitutional case does not block these proceedings from going ahead. The criminal court had ordered that Theuma be cross-examined (on January 7), so to stop that would be a breach of its orders.
Parte civile lawyers - Azzopardi and Comodini Cachia - back the deputy attorney general's position
Court in session
2.04pm The magistrate takes her place and the day's court hearing begins.
William Cuschieri, representing the Degiorgio brothers, begins by telling the court that he cannot cross-examine Theuma unless recordings of Theuma and Fenech conversing are heard in full.
The court had turned down that request last week, prompting the Degiorgio brothers to lash out at the court. They have now filed a constitutional case challenging that decree. The case will be heard by judge Grazio Mercieca.
Cuschieri argues that it is in his clients' interest for all recordings to be exhibited and heard in full, as in proceedings against Yorgen Fenech.
Fenech lawyer in court
2.03pm Charles Mercieca, one of Yorgen Fenech's lawyers, is also in the courtroom.
Three accused men in the dock
2pm Vincent Muscat – better known as il-Koħħu - is the first of the three accused to be escorted into court. He’s wearing sunglasses, as usual, and grips his face mask, as though to stop it from slipping.
Muscat is usually seated behind the two Degiorgio brothers, but today he is seated in their usual spot in the dock.
The Degiorgio brothers are then escorted in. They too are seated in the dock, but a heavily-armed guard separates them from Muscat.
1.53pm The day’s star witness, Melvin Theuma, is already here. He’s seated at the far end of the corridor with his lawyer Kathleen Grima, surrounded by plainclothes officers, waiting to be summoned.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia, representing the Caruana Galizia family, are both here.
But there's no sign of the three accused men yet.
What happened last time?
1.50pm Tensions boiled over at the end of last week's court hearing, when two of the accused - brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio - lashed out at magistrate Claire Zammit Stafrace, saying their rights were being breached.
"It’s one way for Yorgen [Fenech] and for us it’s different,” they complained.
Read more about that heated session.
1.46pm Hello and welcome to this live blog. We're live from hall 22 of the Valletta law courts, where the case against the three alleged Caruana Galizia hitmen is to resume.
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