There were no signs of a disturbance at the site where murder victim Sion Grech’s corpse was discovered in Marsa in April 2005, indicating that the victim may have been killed elsewhere, a medico-legal expert testified in court on Tuesday.
The conclusions of forensic doctor Mario Scerri appeared to run counter to testimony by the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of Ismael Habesh and Faical Mahouachi, who stand accused of the crime. A woman had recounted how she had seen the two men accused of the murder first beat Grech, then drag her into the field in Marsa where they stabbed the screaming victim with knives.
Scerri, a court-appointed expert, gave a detailed description of the crime scene, exhibiting images on two large screens on either side of the courtroom to support his explanation.
He said he had reached the site at around 6:30pm on April 13, 2005, after Grech’s body was discovered in a clearing reached by a zigzagging path through the metre-high grass.
He had looked for signs of disturbance or commotion.
“In this case, there was absolutely nothing,” said Scerri, adding that he had questioned whether the victim had in fact been killed on that spot.
The corpse was in an advanced stage of decomposition.
The hair was easily detachable, exposing the scalp.
Multiple stab marks
Tears were visible on the leather jacket, beige top and black bra worn by the victim, compatible to aggression with a sharp and pointed instrument.
There was a 2-centimetre incision on the left side of the forehead, a stab wound on the right side of the neck and more wounds on the right shoulder, forearm and elbow.
There were long and deep lesions on the chest and a stab wound which pathologists later confirmed had penetrated the heart and aorta.
Another observation concerned defensive wounds on the right palm, indicating that the victim was conscious of the aggression and was trying to defend herself in the final moments of her life.
The nail on her fourth right-hand finger was broken off, also indicative of the victim’s attempts to ward off the attack.
The knife wounds were mostly concentrated on the chest, upwards, although there were other wounds on the legs and arms.
The wounds were inflicted with a knife with one sharp edge.
Other factors, such as the absence of rigor mortis (stiffening of the body relaxes after lapse of time), ‘fixed hypostasis’ (blood settles under the pull of gravity when a person dies, causing a purplish colour of the skin which does not turn white under pressure) indicated that the victim had been dead for a week.
Four days before the gruesome discovery, when investigations were still focused on a missing person’s report, Scerri said he had been tasked with examining certain injuries on Habesh who at the time was a suspected person.
Although there were no fresh injuries, the doctor noted a greenish bruise on the man’s right palm.
There were abscesses on the wrist probably caused by needle puncturing.
On the right palm, there was an abrasion with a dry scab indicating that it had been caused some three days previously.
Other small, parallel close-set abrasions, were indicative of nail marks.
The age of those injuries was compatible to Grech’s estimated time of death, the expert observed.
His testimony triggered a lengthy round of questions by the panel of jurors who asked whether the victim’s injuries could have been inflicted by two weapons.
Scerri said that if there were two weapons, then they both had the same characteristics, namely a knife with one cutting edge.
As for the absence of blood splatterings on site, the expert explained that the victim was probably beaten elsewhere and was losing blood before being transported into the field.
The field was also exposed to the elements, including rain and dew, but forensic experts would look for trace evidence, even if the victim’s blood was soaked up by the soil.
Two pathologists who conducted the autopsy, also relayed their findings to the jury.
Stab wound to the heart
Professors Marie Therese Camilleri Podesta’ and Ali Salfraz gave a step-by-step description of the gaping wounds on the victim’s body.
One of the wounds penetrated the chest, hitting the heart and causing a one-centimetre tear in the aorta.
The cause of death was certified as hypovolemic shock resulting from multiple stab wounds.
The victim experienced a drop of blood pressure as a result of those wounds, especially to the heart and aorta, that drop proved fatal, concluded the experts.
Death was estimated to have occurred between April 6 and 8.
Following those testimonies, the prosecution declared that it had no further evidence to produce.
The ball now shifts into the defence’s court to make oral submissions.
The trial continues.
AG lawyers Anthony Vella and Abigail Caruana Vella are prosecuting.
Lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila are counsel to Habesh.
Lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace is counsel to Mahouachi.
Lawyer Roberto Montalto is appearing parte civile.