Lawyers insist evidence insufficient to indict teens accused of Gaffarena murder

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The lawyers of the two teenagers accused of murdering Saviour Gaffarena in an Mqabba shooting last week are arguing that there is not enough evidence to place them under a bill of indictment as the compilation of evidence opened on Thursday.

Leon Debono and Owen Schembri, who are both 18 and hail from Kirkop, are accused of killing Gaffarena – a 27-year-old who was certified dead on site after he was shot in the head – and of attempting to murder his 17-year-old cousin Vince. Both are pleading not guilty to the charges brought against them.

Testifying in Court, Inspector Kurt Zahra recounted that the younger Gaffarena revealed that he had actually picked up the two accused, as well as his cousin, and gone for a drive in his Renault Megane. This was also confirmed by Debono during questioning, and he added that they had taken some drugs for the journey.

Vince added that they stopped in Ħal Millieri, as Schembri had a firearm that he wanted to show off. An argument broke out, but the 17-year-old said that he could not remember why it had happened.

The younger Gaffarena said that Debono had shot him, hitting him in his face and chest, and that the 18-year-old exited the car and fired another shot. He then added that at this point, he saw that his cousin had been hit, and that Debono and Schembri had fled the scene.

When Insp. Zahra arrived at the scene, Saviour Gaffarena was lying in a pool of blood with an ambulance crew seeking to revive him, to no avail.

Another police officer on the scene, PC Sharona Buhagiar, testified that Vince Gaffarena, who was conscious, signalled that he wished to communicate but was unable to speak. She thus handed him a pen and paper, in which he wrote the names of the accused.

Assistant Commissioner Alessandro Gatt was searching for the two, and upon spotting a youth and a girl in Kirkop, the young man sought to flee. He was captured and identified as Debono; Schembri was later arrested outside his residence.

The 17-year-old who disposed of the murder weapon – who cannot be named by court order – also testified during the sitting, describing himself as a friend of both the accused. He was following the news on the murder when he recognised the car, and unsuccessfully sought to get in touch with Schembri.

Eventually, Schembri invited him over, claiming that they had shot the two Gaffarenas after Vince pulled out a knife and threatened to stab them. The 17-year-old, who insisted he wished to testify even after he was warned he could incriminate himself, said that he chose to take the gun, dismantle it and dispose of it, in three different locations.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, who is appearing for Schembri insisted that the evidence presented was far from that required to indict his client and insisted on a discharge. A similar argument was made by lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell on behalf of Debono, who argued that only hearsay had been recounted in Court: an argument that was contested by Insp. Keith Arnaud, who is prosecuting together with Zahra.

It is now up to Magistrate Nadine Lia to decide whether the two accused should be indicted, with the Court expected to deliver its decree in chambers.