The man accused of raping and murdering a woman in Sliema told police he didn't intend on hurting her "that much". 

Abner Aquilina, of Zejtun, appeared via video link on Friday for the beginning of the compilation of evidence against him for the rape and murder of Paulina Dembska on January 2. 

The court heard how the suspect told police key details of the day of the murder, including that he had followed and attempted to attack two men before the 29-year-old Polish woman was murdered.

He said his life echoed Stanley Kubrick's dystopian horror movie A Clockwork Orange, whose psychopathic protagonist is imprisoned for rape and murder.

Asked how he killed the victim, Aquilina made noises to police and indicated his knee and the sole of his shoe. At one point he said he didn't mean to hurt her "that much".

Blood was found on his socks and on his black bike, inspector Jonathan Ransley told the court during his two-hour testimony. 

Aquilina was first arrested after a disturbance at a church in Balluta, St Julians', for kicking a lectern and causing a commotion. The body was found later in Sliema and police subsequently linked the two investigations.

Attacking men

When police spoke to him as he lay on a stretcher at the Floriana health centre, where he had been taken for examination after the Balluta incident, he described the events of the day.

He parked his bike at the Bay Street underground car park in St Julian's, saw a plump, short woman, wearing a white jacket and started following her.

Along the way, just past Balluta, he saw two men. He tried to attack them near Peppi's, a restaurant in Sliema, but they overcame him and he fled so he then decided to follow a woman, inspector Ransley said.

Police believe he then attacked and killed Paulina Dembska in Independence Gardens, nearby and then returned to Balluta, where he entered a church.

He told police the devil had told him to do something, spoke of “enlightened persons and Satanists" and said his mind was "a cooker" on the day. Aquilina described how he had decided to go to Sliema because he knew there would be "a lot of people". 

He also revealed to investigators that he had been sexually abused at the age of 14 and had subsequently found God, recently attending meetings of the evangelical group, River of Love.

The interview was recorded on police body cams.

Witness mistook rape for pushups 

Magistrate Marseanne Farrugia also heard how a man walking along Sliema promenade appeared to have witnessed the rape but initially thought he was watching someone do pushups.

He then saw a pair of women's legs underneath and assumed it was a couple having sex. He was listening to the rosary on the radio at the time and couldn't hear very well, the court heard.  

Dembska's body was spotted by a male diplomat walking along the Sliema promenade. Police found the body, naked from the breasts down with a scarf on her face and hair stuck in a railing nearby. 

Drug problem

Aqulina's mother told investigators that her son had a drug problem but had recently found purpose in life, joining a church movement.

When she was confronted about the blood on her son's bike, she told officers he had recently injured himself with his knife and that Aquilina wanted to be a stunt man. 

The last movements of the murder victim were also described in court by police, who spoke to a friend. He had asked her to stay with him the previous night but she had decided to go to her Sliema home instead.

Lawyers for Aquilina, who denies the charges, challenged police over when they had read the suspect his rights and why he did not have a lawyer present. 

Inspector Jonathan Ransley explained that Aquilina was arrested for the Balluta incident but had made suspicious statements that suggested a link to the murder. 

When investigators first spoke to him at the polyclinic, they did not mention the murder and he was read his rights in the cubicle of the Floriana clinic.

Speaking for the only time during the compilation, Aquilina told the court that his rights were only read to him when he exited the health centre.

The case continues on February 4. 

Superintendent Keith Arnaud, Inspector Jonathan Ransley and Attorney General lawyer Darlene Grima prosecuted. 

Mario Mifsud and Christian Camilleri represented Aquilina, with Stefano Filletti appearing on behalf of the victim's family. 


Court adjourned

11.57am That's all for today. Thank you for joining us. We'll have a summary of the case above soon. 

Murder accused calm

11.51am Aquilina stretches his arms behind his head. He has been calm all along, speaking only once when he interrupted the inspector’s testimony.

The screen is now blank. Aquilina is no longer in touch with the courtroom.

Meanwhile the magistrate has formally authorized the victim’s family to be represented in the proceedings by lawyer Filletti.

Case continues on February 4

11.46am That’s all for today. 

Magistrate checks the medical certificate and says that according to the doctor Aquilina is due out of quarantine on January 27.

The next date will be on Friday, February 4 at 10am.

Black motorbike

11.44am Ransley's testimony is over.  A Transport Malta official testifies about Aquilina's motorbike. It’s a black Kimko Agility that has been registered in Abner Aqulina's name since September 2020. 

Right to a lawyer

11.40am Mifsud now takes over questioning. He seeks to determine how Ransley had decided to move from the murder scene and go to Floriana polyclinic, taking with him assistant commissioner Sandro Gatt.

Ransley says that Gatt had chosen to go with him.

"But how did you feel the need to leave a murder scene and go to Floriana polyclinic to speak to someone who had kicked a church lectern? It’s a simple question. Answer it," says Mifsud.

Ransley said that after receiving information about the church incident, which happened at 5.50am, he felt it was relevant.

The magistrate asks why, and Ransley replies that the incident was close in time and place.

Mifsud asks why Aqulina had not been given the right to a lawyer at that stage.

"We did not even mention the murder so as not to cast suspicion over him in any way. We just wanted to speak to him. Nothing more," says Ransley. 

Followed two men

11.38am Aquilina said that he followed two men. Asked about the body, he said he had seen no body. Asked about the blood on his socks he did not reply.

Aquilina had tried to attack them near Peppi’s restaurant. But they overcame him and he fled. He then decided to followed a woman.

Abner Aquilina, wearing a blue mask, arrives for his arraignment earlier this month. Photo: Matthew MirabelliAbner Aquilina, wearing a blue mask, arrives for his arraignment earlier this month. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

River of Love

11.36am Aqulina told them how he had parked his bike at level -1 in a car park nearby on January 2. His mind “was a cooker.”

He had gone to Sliema because there were many people there.

He spoke of “enlightened persons and Satanists”. He said he went to meetings of evangelical movement River of Love.

Sexually abused

11.35am Aqulina took officers back to when he was 14. Ran them through the story of his life. Had been sexually abused, he said, because of drugs.

Strange behaviour

11.33am Abner was taken to a forensic unit. He was later identified fit for questioning. He began to behave strangely. He made 360 turns on his chair three times, banged on the floor.

Ransley told him that they had long experience in the field as though to let him know they weren’t impressed and he calmed down.

Clockwork Orange was story of 'my life'

11.30am The plotline of the dystopian novel and movie 'A Clockwork Orange' is discussed. The protagonist, Alex, was sexually abused. He had committed murder and rape and also said that it was ordered by the devil.

And like Abner had also found refuge in God. All this matched Abner’s life. That’s why Abner said that the movie reflected the “story of his life".

Friend of Paulina

11.28am Police also spoke to Paulina’s friend. He had met her some days before and the two were together since 9:00pm that evening. They had a bottle of wine, went to a hostel but it was noisy and so they went for a walk to Balluta. He invited her home but she turned down the offer and she went to home in Sliema. He hadn’t gone to the police after being advised to keep quiet.

Footage showed confrontation

11.26am Ransley also traces the reconstructed movements of Abner that morning. Footage showed him in confrontation with two men. When he reached Barracuda he made the sign of the cross twice.

Suffocated, fractured ribs

11.25am Police later determined that the victim had been suffocated and had fractured ribs. 

Witness to rape

11.22am A man who apparently witnessed the rape said that he saw the man who he thought was doing pressups. But then he saw a pair of woman’s legs beneath him and saw the man had his trousers down. Neither of them were making a sound.

The eyewitness could not hear very well because he was following the rosary on 103 radio at the time.

'He wanted to be a stunt man'

11.20am Police found traces of blood on his bike but his mother explained that some days before he had cut himself with a knife. He always wanted to be a stunt man, she said.

'He had joined this church movement'

11.18am Police spoke to his mother, who was very nice, Ransley says.

Her son used to abuse drugs but then recently he seemed to have found a new purpose in life. He had joined this church movement.

She named a friend who told him to care for his family. The day before the murder he had gone to family home, took clothes and left. She didn’t know where.

Traces of blood

11.17am Just then Ransley spotted traces of blood on Aquilina’s dark navy blue socks. He gestured towards his colleague Wayne Camilleri and instructed Aquilina be taken to forensic unit.

Ransley explains how afterwards they found his motorcycle at the car park.

“A Clockwork Orange”

11.15am Asked how he killed her, he made some noises and indicated the knee and sole of his shoe.

He made reference to the dystopian movie “A clockwork orange” about a psychopath imprisoned for murder and rape.

Police stopped at that stage. No further questions. All that was recorded on bodycam.

First tried to attack two men

11.13am Aquilina had spoken to police on a stretcher. He told them how he had followed the woman and pushed her.

He had first tried to attack two men but then thought better to attack one person.

Inspector continues

11.12am The lawyer says that he will ask for a constitutional reference on this issue of the suspect’s rights but for now, Ransley is allowed to continue with his evidence. 

Aqulina interjects

11.10am Filletti asks the inspector when he read Aquilina his legal rights. Ransley replies that it was at the cubicle at the Floriana polyclinic.

But Aquilina suddenly speaks from the screen. “When I exited the polyclinic,” he says.

The magistrate tells him not to speak. He will have the opportunity to do so at a later stage.

Priest supported Aquilina

11.07am Ransley reveals a priest had “written a paper for him (Aquilina) saying that he was not a criminal.”

Ransley then went to the health centre, where they heard Aquilina shouting but when they entered, he was calm. 

When Inspectory Wayne Camilleri spoke to him first there was "nothing of interest". The police persisted and spoke to him "as friends". 

"We didn’t mention the murder at first."

Ransley returns to witness stand

10.58am Inspector Ransley is called back to the witness stand. The magistrate asks him why he felt the need to inform the homicide squad before speaking to Aquilina.

"We always do when there is a suspicion," he replies. 

Asked why he went with a CID officer and not alone, Ransley says police always work in tandem.

St Julian’s police got the report about the incident at the church. The Sliema station got the report about the lifeless body. 

"At the time I knew nothing about the call to the St Julian’s station regarding the Balluta incident," Ransley says. The call about the murder came afterwards, he clarifies. 

Officers at the St Julian's police station had called him while he was at the homicide site telling him that earlier in the morning, they had arrested a youth. 

Two investigations

10.53am As Aquilina’s lawyer contests that the police failed to give their client his legal rights, the victim's family lawyer, Filletti again stands up to speak.

There was an investigation going on about the incident at the Balluta church and the brutally murdered body. The police did not link the two at first, Filletti says. But at some point they connected the overturned church lectern episode to the brutal rape and murder.

So far we have not heard when the police’s suspicion first set in. What was said between the police and the accused was recorded audio visually. The bodycam will eventually be exhibited so that we may know exactly what was said at the time and the body language too.

Flowers and cards at the scene of the murder of Paulina Dembska. Photo: Matthew MirabelliFlowers and cards at the scene of the murder of Paulina Dembska. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Body cam

10.50am Earlier it emerged that interview with Aqulina was captured on a police body cam. The defence says this is likely to raise issues.

Ransley had said that they had gone to interview Aquilina. “Was he applying for some job with Enemalta?” Legal rights are to be given even when stopping a person for a breathalyzer test, argues Mifsud. 

Suspect's rights

10.44am Defence lawyer Mifsud rebuts those arguments. He says the legal rights of the suspect enter into play the minute he is no longer spoken to “on friendly terms” but as suspect.

He suggests that under interrogation at the depot, an officer might offer the suspect a cigarette to put him at ease, inviting him to cooperate to benefit from a reduction in punishment.

Legal arguments

10.40am. The victim's lawyer Filletti steps in. He argues that at that stage, Aquilina was not a suspect. This issue was raised in another murder case. Anything said by the accused at will is not automatically excluded if he has not been given his rights.

The law speaks very specifically in this regard, he tells the court. The law distinguishes between suspects, witnesses, and persons who supply information to the police. Those legal rights mentioned by the defence are tied to suspects.

Legal rights

10.37am Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud interrupts.

“Was Abner given his legal rights during all that time? If not, the inspector must stop testifying at once. Otherwise I’ll make a constitutional reference to this effect,” he says.

“We were only talking to him not interrogating him at that stage," Ransley replies. The inspector is asked to leave until the legal issue is thrashed out by the lawyers

Didn't mean to hurt her 'that much'

10.35am Asked if he spoke to her, he said he didn’t want to hear about her. He didn’t mean to hurt her that much, he said.

She was wearing a hood of a certain trademark and that matched the one found on site.

Police found two hoods. A black one near the victim and a blue Karcher one found on the promenade.  Ransley told him “you forgot your black hat behind.”

“ No forget that. There was only a blue hoodie belonging to the woman.”” Aquilina replied, referring to the hood that was found near the body of the victim.

The devil told him to 'do something'

10.32am Aquilina told the police that the devil had told him to do something. He followed a woman to church. But she walked on.

He began to follow her from the Bay Street underground car park. “I smelt her,” he told officers. She was plump, short and wearing white jacket, he told them.

Psychiatric care

10.31am Aqulina was taken to a health clinic for treatment and psychiatric care. Inspector Wayne Camilleri went to talk to the youth. Ransley instructed him not to mention the murder at all

'Agitated' youth arrested

10.29am The duty magistrate was informed and the identity of the victim was confirmed as Paulina Dembska. She was certified dead by a doctor.

A sergeant from St Julian’s police station told Ransley that earlier that morning they had arrested a youth at Balluta church. This was Abner Aquilina. 

He had kicked the pedestal and caused a commotion. He was in a very agitated state and was saying things that didn’t make sense.

Man alerted police

10.28am A male diplomat walking along the promenade had spotted the woman and alerted the police.

Naked body of woman found

10.26am  Inspector Ransley takes the oath. He says that on January 2 police got early morning call about the lifeless body of the victim. A police officer went on site to Independence Gardens in Sliema. 

The body of a woman was nude from the breast down, with her face covered by a scarf and there was human hair, probably her own, stuck to a railing.

Quarantine confirmed

10.23am An officer from the Corradino Correctional Facility presents a medical certificate confirming his quarantine. 

Paulina Dembska was raped, strangled and murdered on January 2. Photo: FacebookPaulina Dembska was raped, strangled and murdered on January 2. Photo: Facebook

Paulina Dembska family not present

10.21am The family of Paulina Dembska wished to atttend but decided against it after being informed today's sitting would not be a long one. 

Key figures

10.18am Magistrate Marse-Ann Farrugia, who is presiding the compilation of evidence, asks Aquilina if he can hear her. He nods, yes. 

Today the prosecution will be led by Superintendent Keith Arnaud, Inspector Jonathan Ransley and Attorney General lawyer Darlene Grima. 

Defence lawyer is Mario Mifsud and Christian Camilleri. Parte civile lawyer, for the family of Paulina Dembska is Stefano Filletti. 

Accused follows via video link

10.16am The screen has just been switched on and we're getting a view of some room at Mount Carmel, where Aquilina is being held on remand. 

He appears, wearing a blue and turquoise tracksuit and a grey face mask. A male officer sits behind him in a dark uniform.


Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us