One of the two soldiers accused of the racially motivated murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane would confront migrants in the street and feared they would take over the country, his ex-girlfriend has told a court.
Mariah Bongailas, of Zabbar, said her former boyfriend, Lorin Scicluna would ask them 'What do you want?' and also made remarks such as “look at what he is wearing”, and these were always directed towards black people.
Ms Bongailis said she would plead for him to let them go about their lives when he would complain that migrants wanted to "rule the place", she said.
Soldiers Francesco Fenech, 21, and Lorin Scicluna, 22, are both accused of killing Mr Souleymane, 42, in a drive-by shooting in Birżebbuġa on April 6.
They are also charged with the attempted murder of two migrants from Gambia in a drive-by shooting on the same night.
They deny the charges of what is believed to be Malta’s first racially-motivated murder.
During Wednesday's court sitting, Ms Bongailas explained how, on the night of the alleged murder, she had been watching the movie Dumbo at Fgura cinema before meeting her then boyfriend.
She said that shortly before Mr Scicluna was arrested, he told her he had been involved in a hit and run incident involved “a dark skinned man”. The man had got back on his feet, according to Mr Scicluna.
She also explained how lead investigator Keith Arnaud had contacted her during the murder investigation, and told her of suspicions that Mr Scicluna could have been involved in the shooting.
Asked to describe her former relationship with the accused, Ms Bongailas burst out into tears in the court room.
“We had a good relationship. I loved his family and still do,” she said, her voice breaking.
Sat in the dock just a few feet away, Mr Scicluna also cried, as his father, who was sitting behind him, put his hand on his shoulder.
Later during the proceedings Police Inspector Joe Gerada told the court how officers had traced Mr Scicluna’s car from the murder scene to his home town using a series of CCTV cameras dotted across the island.
Investigators also singled the accused out after they went through a list of people who owned the same model of Toyota Starlet.
Subsequent CCTV footage taken from a garage in Paola had shown two men making alterations to the same model of car shortly after the shooting.
Investigators have found that Mr Scicluna’s car was altered after the shooting using electrical tape and stickers. Side mirrors were also changed.
A request for bail by the legal teams of both the accused was turned down by Magistrate Ian Farrugia.
The last court sitting, back in August, had seen a teenage migrant tell the court how he was hit by a car and left for dead on the same road where Mr Souleymane was later gunned down.
Scroll down for a detailed account of Wednesday's proceedings from the court room as they happened.
1:55pm That's it for today, thanks for following. The court proceedings have ended and the case will resume lin October.
1:52pm Following a brief recess, Magistrate Farrugia returns to the court room and reads out a decree on the bail requests. In view of the gravity of offence and the possibility of tampering with evidence, the risk of absconding takes more serious dimensions, he says. The court rejects the requests for bail, and the two accused are remanded into custody.
‘Bail should be refused given nature of the crime’
1:36pm Lawyer Nadia Attard from the office of the Attorney General argues that given the gravity of the crime, and the public outcry following the shooting, the requests for bail should both be turned down. The accused were both facing possible life imprisonment if found guilty. She also adds that a number of other witnesses are yet to testify in the case, including civilians.
Accused ask for bail
13:08pm It doesn’t look like there will be anymore witnesses for today as Inspector Gerada steps down from the witness stand. Mr Scicluna’s legal team make fresh submissions for bail, arguing that most witnesses have already testified in the case. “Personal liberty is the rule not the exception. We didn’t rush to file a bail application but now, witnesses have been heard and evidence gathered,” Dr Debono says. Mr Fenech's team put forward the same request.
Dr DeMarco argued that Mr Fenech had a clean criminal record, prompting Dr Debono to add that his client, a recidivist, had fully cooperated with the police.
Garage cameras caught men altering car
12:53pm Inspector Gerada tells the court that CCTV footage lifted from a garage in Paola shows two men making alterations to the same model of Toyota Starlet which had been traced from the murder scene. Other footage later showed two men leaving the scene in a dark vehicle, he says. This evidence is all submitted to the court.
Police found Scicluna from list of Toyota owners
12:48pm Police Inspector Joseph Gerada from the police’s Criminal Investigation Department is next to take the witness stand. He tells the court how he had been part of the team which traced Mr Scicluna’s car from the murder scene using CCTV footage. The police, he says, had then worked their way through a list of drivers who owned the same model of Toyota Starlet, eventually getting to the accused.
Lorin was always the driver
12:41pm The witness tells the court that Mr Scicluna would always insist on driving whenever she was with him in the car. This could prove to be a major piece of testimony as both of the accused claim to have been driving the car on the night of the shooting – insisting that it was the other who had actually pulled the trigger.
'I don’t have his number anymore'
12:35pm Lawyer Giannella DeMarco, who is defence counsel to Mr Fenech, takes over cross examination. The ex-girlfriend tells the court how she had recently bought a new mobile phone which did not contain any of the messages she had previously sent Mr Scicluna while the two were still an item. She had not even saved Mr Scicluna’s number to her new contacts list, she says.
Inspector told ex-girlfriend of suspicions
12:28pm The witness tells the court that Inspector Arnaud had contacted her on the evening of Mr Scicluna’s arrest and told her of suspicions of his involvement in the murder.
Asked about her relationship with Mr Fenech, she reiterates that she was not a friend of his, and did not particularly enjoy the few occasions that he had joined her and Mr Scicluna for a night out.
“Why drag him along?” She had told her boyfriend at the time. To which Mr Scicluna allegedly said that he had invited him so that his friend would not spend the evening alone.
'We had a good relationship'
12:16pm The compilation of evidence resumes and the defence team has a crack at cross examining the witness. Lawyer Franco Debono, who is appearing on behalf of Mr Scicluna, asks her to describe her former relationship with Mr Scilcuna, prompting her to burst out into tears.
“We had a good relationship. I loved his family and still do,” she says, her voice breaking. Sat in the dock, Mr Scicluna also cries.
No word on Army racism inquiry
11:52am Proceedings have been temporarily paused once again as Magistrate Farrugia deals with some other duties.
Meanwhile, you may remember that after the arrest of the two accused, the government had said that the Armed Forces would be conducting an internal inquiry to weed out any racism in its ranks. Although government sources have indicated that the inquiry has been concluded, there is still no sign of when or if it will ever be published.
Soldier feared migrants 'want to rule the place'
11:36am The ex-girlfriend tells the court how on a number of occasions she had found it odd when Mr Scicluna would get worked up about migrants.
"He would say ' look at what he's wearing', stuff like that," she says. She later tells the court how Mr Scicluna feared migrants wanted to "rule the place". It was always directed towards black people, she says, adding that she would plead with him to just drop it and let them go about their lives.
Scicluna had detailed hit and run
11:31am Shortly before Mr Scicluna was arrested, the witness says that she had spoken to him. He had admitted to her that he had been involved in a hit and run incident involved “a dark skinned man”. The man had got back on his feet, according to Mr Scicluna.
'Lorin would approach black people in the streets'
11:22am Magistrate Farrugia asks the witness whether she had ever seen anything unusual. A man was murdered, he says, does anything stick out in your memory? The ex-girlfriend tells the court that she never saw anything particularly alarming, however on a few occasions she had seen Mr Scicluna approach black people in the street and ask them what they were up to. "He would say 'What do you want?' and then that was it. This happened maybe two or three times," she says.
'Francesco and I weren't friends'
11:14am The ex-girlfriend tells the court that although the two accused were both close and would meet regularly, she did not consider Mr Fenech a friend. The two soldiers would meet in the evenings and go for drives and pick up fast food, however Mr Fenech had only tagged along two or three times.
Scicluna altered appearance of his car after shooting
11:07am Inspector Arnaud asks the ex-girlfriend to confirm whether Mr Scicluna drove a Toyota Starlet and if it had been altered with electrical tape, stickers, and side mirrors after the date of the shooting, which she confirms. Previous court sittings have heard police officers detail how the car had been tracked down using CCTV footage.
He slept over that night
11:01am The court hears how after the film, the woman and her sister went home. Later that same night Mr Scicluna came round and spent the night.
'I was at the cinema on night of the shooting'
10:58am The ex-girlfriend tells the court that on the night of the shooting she had been watching a film, Dumbo, at a Fgura cinema with her sister until around 11pm. He had been working at a pastizzeria until 10pm and she had texted him at intermission to tell him that the film hadn't finished yet.
Ex-girlfriend takes the stand
10:53am Mr Scicluna's ex-girlfriend has taken the witness stand. Assisted by lawyer Ishmael Psaila, she tells the court that Mr Scicluna and her had been in a relationship for two years and seven months, since 2016 until “shortly after his arrest.”
Soldiers had enlisted at the same time
10:50am Proceedings are back underway with the first witness a senior AFM officer. Douglas Sinclair, a warrant officer, tells the court that the two accused had both enlisted in October 2017 and confirmed in their rank on March 2018.
Short break in proceedings
10:40am There's a short break at the moment while the magistrate, who also happens to be duty magistrate today, presides over some other pending court matters.
Prisoner escort shortages
10:29am Magistrate Farrugia has temporarily suspended proceedings and is flagging an apparent lack of prisoner escorts in the court house. "I'm not raising this issue to chastise you, but in the hope that the situation can be improved," he tells a court official. He says that a serious shortage of escorts was piling pressure on the few officials and causing disruption to the justice system. The police commissioner and director of prisons were to be notified of this matter, the magistrate added.
Who are the lawyers involved in the case?
10:17am There's a brief interlude while the magistrate retires to the chambers. So here's a list of who is representing those involved in the case. Lawyers Franco Debono, Kris Busietta and Julian Farrugia are defence counsel to Lorin Scicluna.
Lawyer Giannella DeMarco is defence counsel to Francesco Fenech, who is also assisted by lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell. Inspector Keith Arnaud is prosecuting.
Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi is parte civile.
Court is in session
10:09am Lorin Scicluna and Francesco Fenech have just been escorted into the courtroom. Magistrate Ian Farrugia calls the court into session and lead prosecutor Inspector Keith Arnaud informs the court that one of the accused's girlfriend is to testify, as well as a number of police officers and a representative from the Armed Forces.
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