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Questions linger on Melvin Theuma case

The scene outside Melvin Theuma's apartment on the night he was found with a slit throat and severe wounds to his abdomen.

At a press conference following the stabbing incident which left State witness Melvin Theuma severely wounded, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa began his media briefing by highlighting the police’s organisation of the briefing.

“Less than 12 hours later we are here to give you more details about the case. A month ago, that is what I pledged… we want to be a corps that is close to the public,” said Gafa, opening the conference.

The conference was indeed a rare occurrence when taking into consideration the lack of them under his predecessor Lawrence Cutajar, who had organised no more than one media briefing in the two-year-long aftermath of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination case prior to his resignation. 

Yet three weeks following the incident, that 22 July press conference remains the latest official update on the investigation into the incident involving the key witness in the Caruana Galizia murder, who was granted a presidential pardon to reveal all. 

In the media briefing, the police laid out why and how they came to the conclusion that Theuma’s wounds were most-likely self-inflicted; but they did not completely rule out foul play.

Members of the public had questioned the speed at which the police arrived at their conclusions, with foreign forensic experts also having told The Shift that conclusions on whether his injuries were self-inflicted could not have been drawn overnight.

Since the press conference, the police commissioner has not had further briefings with the press on the ongoing investigation.

Questions sent by The Shift asking for the key points of the corps’ forensic analysis and whether their investigations had confirmed whether Theuma’s wounds were indeed self-inflicted were left unanswered by the police who said that they cannot answer due to the ongoing magisterial inquiry.

According to the law, magisterial inquiries can only be launched if two criteria are present: the crime carries more than a three-year jail term, and the evidence requires immediate preservation. There is no criminal charge for attempted suicide.

The findings of magisterial inquiries are commonly not announced. So if the public obtaining information on the incident rests on the inquiry’s completion then this does not guarantee disclosure.

A copy of the conclusions of findings of magisterial inquiries could be divulged after a request is made to the Attorney General. Yet the copy is given at his discretion.

Psychological assistance for Melvin Theuma questioned

At the 22 July press conference, while the police were stating that the incident was probably attempted suicide, they had also defended their decision to remove police protection from inside Theuma’s house after a request from his lawyers.

Gafa and chief homicide inspector Keith Arnaud argued that they had not been aware of any suicidal attempts, despite Theuma often speaking about his distress during his court testimonies.

It is the responsibility of the police to protect the State witness from both murder and potential self-harm.

In questions sent to the police in August The Shift asked whether any therapy had been provided to Theuma but the police did not disclose any specifics, saying only that “details regarding his care fall within the remit of health professionals”.

In court on Thursday, Magistrate Rachel Montebello ordered a medical expert to examine the mental state of Melvin Theuma to see if he could continue court proceedings. This followed a request of suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech’s defence team.

How this will impact a potential case against Fenech, since the court is still at the stage of compilation of evidence, is anyone’s guess.

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