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New twist in double murder trial

The double murder trial of Brian Vella, which was scheduled to be heard on Monday, suffered yet another setback yesterday after the Constitutional Court overturned a judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court, effectively ordering it to hear what the accused had to say.

The First Hall had dismissed Mr Vella's appeal in which he claimed that his right to a fair hearing was violated by the fact that his jury trial had been dissolved on two occasions and that, as a consequence, his presumption of innocence could no longer be guaranteed.

The Constitutional Court yesterday overturned this judgment, and ordered the First Hall to review the evidence produced by Mr Vella's lawyers. This includes evidence related to media reports and comments made by Police Commissioner John Rizzo during a press conference after the trial was dissolved a second time.

The case relates to the murder of Gerald and Josephine Grima, an elderly couple, killed six years ago in their apartment in Sta Lucija.

Mr Vella's trial by jury was originally scheduled to be heard in 2004 but the proceedings were dissolved after the evidence of a co-accused was deemed inadmissible.

The trial resumed last January but was dissolved when the Police Commissioner's evidence was deemed prejudicial by the court.

The 17-page judgment was handed down at 11.30 a.m. and within half an hour the defence team - Anglu Farrugia, Chris Busietta and Therese Comodini - filed an application at the Court Registry, which closes at noon, to have Monday's jury suspended.

The Court Registrar notified the jurors not to attend.

A third date for Mr Vella's trial had been set for June 12 but Mr Justice Joseph Galea Debono had ordered that the trial be postponed for a short while "as a measure of prudence" pending developments in the constitutional application.

In his constitutional application before the first court, Mr Vella argued that the start of his third trial would be in breach of his rights. The First Hall of the Civil Court declared, after hearing the evidence, that it was satisfied that Mr Vella had other remedies at law and that the jury trial had not been irremediably compromised.

The first court also said that it would be rash if it were to examine Mr Vella further, since, by doing so, it would be anticipating scenarios and behaviour that might not take place.

Mr Vella asked the Constitutional Court, made up of Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano, Mr Justice Joseph D. Camilleri and Mr Justice Joseph A. Filletti for two remedies: that more time be allowed to lapse before the commencement of his jury trial, and that his trial would eventually be heard by a judge without a jury panel.

The judges said yesterday that once Mr Vella had indicated the two remedies, there was no doubt that the eventual trial would be presided over by Mr Justice Galea Debono. However, the law prohibited certain trials being heard by a judge without jurors. One such instance was in cases where the prosecution was requesting life imprisonment.

The Constitutional Court concluded by finding that the first court's decision was untimely, and that it was for this reason alone that it was being revoked.

Dr Cynthia Scerri Debono represented the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner.

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