Man agreed to commit arson for a shot of heroin, court told

Accused turns up on time after having been sentenced to 60 days imprisonment for contempt on Monday

The man who kept a court waiting last Monday when he failed to turn up for the start of his trial, was commissioned to carry out an arson attack for "a shot of heroin", the court heard today.

The parties made their submissions on the punishment after the accused pleaded guilty to charges, which included setting fire to a house door in Qormi.

Punctual and seated in the dock as Mr Justice Antonio Mizzi entered the courtroom, Martin Marco Baldacchino, 40, from Żebbuġ listened as the defence and the prosecution made arguments and counter-arguments on the quantum of punishment.

The self-confessed arsonist and reformed drug addict, was accused of having set fire to the door of a house in Main Street, Qormi on August 24, 2011, a crime which carries a possible maximum jail term of 12 years.

He also pleaded guilty to having willfully damaged third party property and with having breached the terms of a conditional discharge.

Defence counsel Franco Debono began by apologising on behalf of his client for failing to turn up last Monday and gave notice of appeal against the 60-day jail term imposed  for contempt of court.

He pointed out that since the time of the commission of the crime, the punishment for arson had been reduced and therefore, according to established procedure, the law more favourable to the accused was applicable.

Referring to Maltese jurisprudence, Dr Debono argued there had been "cases of arson, 10 times more serious" than the present case, where the life of third parties was placed in clear danger and yet, the court had delivered a suspended sentence.

"La legge e' uguale per tutti", he concluded and "God forbid if in this country we were to be left to the mercy of the Attorney General " who, he said, chooses to apply one article of law sometimes and another article at other times.

In its reply, the prosecution argued that the court must deliver judgment according to the facts of the case and not of past cases, such as those quoted by the defence.

The prosecution briefly recalled that the accused had been caught red-handed by an off-duty police constable throwing a petrol-doused T-shirt next to the front door of the house in Qormi. He then ran off with the police constable in pursuit.

The court was asked to note that in this case, the accused, although under the influence of drugs, must have known that inside the residence there was a housewife, her husband who had returned from night duty as warden at the Corradino Correctional facility, and the son who happened to be on the roof with two Go employees who were carrying out some works.

The prosecution recalled that the mother had testified that, alerted by the smell of fire, she had opened the front door and saw the blaze. The occupants of the house had to jump out of the windows and seek help from neighbours to put out the flames.

Serious damage was caused to the door and the intercom was completely melted. All this, the prosecution stressed, had been done for a "shot of heroin."

The court was asked to consider that the accused had taken drugs intentionally and could not plead that his act was unintentional. Moreover, the man had not registered an early guilty plea. Finally it was to be observed that since the accused had violated the terms of a conditional discharge, he could not benefit from a suspended sentence.

The court put off the case to December 14 for judgment.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Gavin Gulia are defence counsel.