Updated 8.58pm with further testimony.
A prison inmate had described to police how she witnessed the murder of Sion Grech in 2005, a police inspector told a court on Tuesday.
Grech was killed by multiple stab wounds in a field near an HSBC branch in Marsa.
Three years later, the police homicide squad received an anonymous letter which led them to Jacqueline Rapinett, who at the time was serving time in prison.
Former police inspector Christopher Pullicino testified on Tuesday in the trial of Ismael Habesh and Faical Mohouachi who stand accused of the murder.
He said that Rapinett was initially reluctant to answer police questions, fearing she could be harmed.
But after some persuading, she recounted how that April evening back in 2005 she met Sion in Marsa where the two used to loiter for prostitution.
Grech had blood stains on her hands, claiming to have been involved in an argument with a client and she headed to the Tiger Bar to wash it off before returning.
Later Habesh turned up in a “red or brown car”, and got into an argument with Grech over drugs.
He grabbed Grech by the hair, knocked her down and kicked her as she lay on the ground, before being joined by another man.
They carried Grech behind a low wall leading onto a field.
Rapinett later accompanied police on site, indicating the exact spot where Grech was laid. That spot matched the place where three years previously, police had come across a woman’s white-heeled shoe.
As Rapinett watched, the men carried Grech further into the field and continued to hit her.
The eyewitness clambered onto the low wall to get a better view and there said she saw Habesh draw a penknife and use it as he continued to hit the victim.
Rapinett said she then went to meet a regular client but was away only for a few minutes, asking him to take her back to Marsa because “she didn’t know what she was doing.”
A warning by the alleged murderer
That was when she met Habesh who approached, warning that if she had seen something and said anything, she would meet the same fate as Grech.
The former inspector said further confidential information subsequently led investigators to the other suspect, Mohouachi, who, however, was not in Malta.
He was tracked down in 2013 when he returned and was spotted in Republic Street, Valletta.
He was arrested and singled out by Rapinett at an identification parade as the one who had been with Habesh on the day of the alleged murder.
The woman only knew him by sight and was unable to supply his name.
Under cross-examination, Pullicino said that up to 2010 when Rapinett released a second statement, there were certain details which police could not yet verify beyond reasonable doubt.
They could only confirm “50%” of the eyewitness’s account.
The other “50%” was confirmed in 2013 when Mohouachi was questioned.
The former inspector also said that he had passed on the anonymous letter to the forensic experts but had not showed it to the other investigators working on the case, nor to the magistrate handling the inquiry.
A number of former police officers who had investigated the murder also testified on Tuesday.
Former Superintendent Carmelo Bartolo recalled that Habesh's wife had first provided an alibi for her husband but later confessed that she and the accused had quarrelled and slept in separate rooms on the night of the murder.
Habesh was using a red Escort Mark 6 at the time of the murder.
Under questioning, Habesh denied involvement in the murder, insisting that he had last seen Grech in Marsa.
'They took two lives from me' - murder victim's mother
Earlier on Tuesday the court heard how Sion Grech's mother felt that two lives had actually been snatched away from her, since she blamed the murder for her husband's subsequent fatal cancer.
Anna Grech died some years ago, but testimony she had given in 2013 in the compilation of evidence against Habesh and Mohouachi was heard in court.
Grech had explained that she had had a very close relationship with Sion and sensed something was wrong when she did not get her usual daily phone call.
When a night and a day passed she sensed that something must have happened and filed a missing person report.
She also handed out notices about Sion, “in every place” in case someone had any news about her.
Then days later, her sister called, informing her that Sion had been found. But she was in for a shock as her sister went on, telling her that Sion had been found dead in a field.
“Then we went there and I collapsed….I never saw him again, not even at the mortuary,” the mother testified.
Her husband had seen the corpse and “got such a shock that he developed stomach cancer and passed away…So they took two [lives] away from me, not one,” the woman had explained.
“He [Sion] was all cut up, 19 stab wounds,” she added.
The victim’s mother had also spoken about Sion's, explaining that he was “gay.”
She had identified Ismael [Habesh] in the courtroom, explaining that the accused and Sion had been in a relationship for some eight months before he went missing.
“They were together as man and woman,” the witness had said, adding that she and her husband did not like Ismael much and only let him into their home once, “because of their son”, on a rainy day.
But Sion loved Habesh and wanted to be with him, she explained.
Grech used the pronouns she/her. Given that she was murdered years before the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act of 2015, she is listed in legal documents as a male named Simon. Previous court reports stated that she was also known as Simone.
One of the accused turned up at victim's home
Two days after Sion went missing, Habesh had turned up at the couple’s home asking after her.
Grech's husband had told him to go with him to police headquarters.
But she had no idea what happened afterwards, the mother had finished off.
Her husband had said nothing else, even because he knew that she was upset at the time.
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 Mohouachi.
Lawyer Roberto Montalto is appearing parte civile.
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