The courtroom is empty except for one of the prosecution lawyers and an elderly couple. They’re the parents of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and they’ve been at every sitting of her murder case so far. They sit stoically.
Two of Caruana Galizia’s sisters walk in. They sit by their parents in a show of support. Soon journalists start filling up the benches, catching up with one another about the various stories of the day, in the detached way journalists often do. Then the lawyers from both sides, piles of documents in their hands, complaining about their workload.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s husband Peter ambles through the courtroom door. Despite his devastating loss, he manages to be his usual affable self. He’s a lawyer who is all too used to a courtroom setting. It seems everyone has become too used it now. A strange sense of familiarity has kicked in already. Even to the family members of a journalist who was car-bombed just four months ago, this has become the new normal… yet another of countless sittings in which they can only sit and listen.
The suspects are brought in, surrounded by several policemen wearing black padded uniforms bearing the letters SRT. It stands for Special Response Team. These aren’t officers you’d want to mess around with - they look almost scarier than the suspects.
The murder suspects are dressed in decent suits. George Degiorgio immediately emerges as the leader of the three. His perfectly polished shiny black shoes and assertive posture give away his domineering character. And the lawyers direct their whispers to him alone.
Court sketches by Sebastian Tanti Burló
His beady jet-black eyes scan the courtroom every so often, intimidating anybody who catches a glimpse of them. His eyes don’t lock though - except, for a brief moment, with the perky bottom of one of the female lawyers.
His brother Alfred sits two places away from him, his eyes sagging, his forehead wrinkled, his stare vacant. Vince Muscat sits in between them, looking too old (and simple) for this shit. He takes something out of his pocket. It looks like a sweet. He unfurls it from its packaging and places it in his mouth, chewing nervously. For a second I think he might be about to poison himself and I’m worried that nobody else seems to be taking notice. Since he didn’t die, I’m guessing it was just a sweet after all.
It’s a strange comparison, but the men immediately remind me of xufiera tal-ministri (chauffeurs of ministers). They look vaguely menacing, especially within the context of a courtroom. But really they look no different to other men their age who have lived rough lives and feel particularly significant when wearing a suit.
Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit walks in assertively, breaking the awkwardness and shifting focus to the matter at hand.
Before we know it the lawyers are talking over each other about lots of meaningless issues. The defence complains that prison officials are leaking information to the press, depriving their clients of their "right to privacy”. One of the men went to hospital a few days back and One News broke the story.
“The worst part are the comments people leave online,” say the lawyers, missing the sense of irony completely.
The court - desperate to move on - accepts to recommend an investigation by the Prison Director.
Next, the defence lawyers complain that the men have been given different visitation conditions to other prisoners. They have to meet their family in a small room with officers watching their back. And visits are taking place at 5.30pm instead of 4pm, making it difficult for George Degiorgio’s young children to visit.
“5.30pm is too late?” asks the magistrate with a deadpan and almost incredulous tone.
“Well, yes,” the lawyers retort, half-embarrassed. “Why should they be treated differently to other prisoners? Aren’t they presumed innocent?”
It’s strange isn’t it? The law dictates that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But as they sit in the dock uninterested in the witness testimonies and only perking up when their prison conditions are discussed, they don’t appear to be protesting their innocence at all. These men face life in prison if they are found guilty but their primary concern seems to be their current prison conditions… and leaks to the press about their health conditions.
They don’t seem horrified at being accused of the biggest murder Malta has ever witnessed. Far from reacting like they have been wrongly charged, they seem resigned to their fate. Maybe they too have become desensitised to the courtroom setting.
One after another, witnesses take to the stand to help furnish the prosecution’s case; the compilation of evidence. Today we learnt that the cabin cruiser linked to the investigation was bought for €30,000, paid in cash by the Degiorgio brothers. We also learnt that Alfred Degiorgio used the number 99328493 to call his landlord in St Paul’s Bay, who he also paid in cash. We’re not yet sure about the relevance of this other piece of information but the prosecution also established that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car was sent to the panel beater a month before the murder yet works were delayed because the car keys were dropped off in the wrong letter box.
Once the day’s testimonies were done, the lawyers continued their battle of submissions. The defence complained that the Attorney General’s office was helping the prosecution directly in the case. Then they threw a hissy fit about the date and time of the next court sitting. One of the lawyers said he could not attend because he had other sittings on the day, prompting the magistrate to lose her cool and go on a rant about the defence lawyers always being unavailable.
“I’m not going to postpone a single sitting,” she says defiantly. “I want to wrap this up.”
Her assertiveness drew smiles from the rest of the people in the courtroom, impressed by her attitude and, by that point, bored to death by the lawyer’s constant interjections.
At some points, this felt like a Mepa hearing over a minor rooftop dispute. The small courtroom, devoid of any gravitas, didn’t feel like the focal point of the shocking murder that sent ripples around the world.
And as the hours went by, the crucial questions of the case went unasked and unanswered. If these men killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, why did they do it? Who sent them?
It doesn’t look like we’ll know any time soon. It barely looks like anyone is trying to find out.
As we leave the court building, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memorial, which has become a rallying point for protest, is getting lots of attention. Tourists walk up to the flowers surrounding the Great Siege monument. Many take their phones out to Google her name.
“That’s why they want it removed,” one of her sisters tells me on the way out.
The real battle for justice isn’t happening in the courtroom. It’s happening everywhere else.
Court sketches by Sebastian Tanti Burló