Malta media murder trial to re-open after false starts

Valletta (AFP) –


The trial of three men accused of killing campaigning Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia will start for the third time Tuesday after a second magistrate recused herself from the case.

Galizia died in a car bombing on October 16. The blast reduced her vehicle to a shell of twisted, burned metal and her murder led to an outpouring of grief on Malta and an international outcry.

Brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, aged 55 and 53 respectively, and Vincent Muscat, 55 -- have pleaded not guilty to planning the killing.

One of Malta's most prominent public figures, Galizia became well-known thanks to a blog she used to expose crime and corruption in the small but economically booming nation.

But the trial has been held up because magistrate Charmaine Galea said the blogger had tackled the subject of her appointment to the bench, forcing her to withdraw from the case.

Another magistrate, Donatella Frendo Dimech, last week also refused to hear the trial, saying she was at school with one of Galizia?s sisters.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit will now hear the case.

Malta has only 22 magistrates and another 22 judges. Every criminal case is heard by a magistrate in the lower courts but a magistrate cannot order prison sentences of more than 12 years.

Therefore, following the compilation of evidence stage, the case is referred to higher courts for a trial by jury or judge -- whichever the accused choose.

With Malta, population just 400,000, being the smallest EU state, links between people involved in a case is liable to happen.

The three accused are charged with manufacturing the bomb, murder, taking part in organised crime and well as possession of explosives.