When A Possession Isn’t A Possession

The Times of Malta and other outlets, milked a rape case for all it was worth as Media pundits are wont to do, a story that probably should have been handled like any other that involves sexual assault. But this story had a unique angle, one the judge referred to as macabre. You see, the accused was said to be demonically possessed, while the defense claimed it was the victims who were playing demonic games.

Our sordid story begins in 2019 B.C. (Before Covid) when a teenager was charged with assault of his girlfriend and her Mother. The Times writes:

The 18-year old unemployed Cospicua resident, whose name publication was banned under court order, was remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to rape and other charges of a sexual nature mingled with alleged occult phenomena.

He was also charged with the rape of his mother’s girlfriend, besides holding her and her daughter against their will, forcing both women to perform indecent acts, slightly injuring them and causing them to fear violence.

He was further charged with having engaged in sexual acts with his 15-year old girlfriend, with whom he had been living at her mother’s home.

Prosecuting inspector Eman Hayman explained how the police had been contacted by the 15-year-old, who complained of the young man’s violent treatment and controlling behavior.

Inspector Hayman went on to detail how the Mother was a practitioner of the occult and the defendant used this knowledge to instill fear in the 15-year old girlfriend claiming that her Mother had opened a doorway to Satan himself. Testimony indicated that the defendant played on his girlfriend’s beliefs to coerce her into, not only sex with him, but incestuous acts with her Mother as well.

In one of the earliest hearings on the case, four years ago, attorneys for the defense petitioned the court to order a psychiatric examination of the victims, as the Mother had been admitted to a local hospital up to twenty-five times, but the lawyers admitted they did not know the nature of the hospital admissions. The prosecution objected on the claim that the defense was trying to intimidate the victims, resulting in magistrate Rachel Montebello denying the defense’s request.

The prosecution made it’s own requests of the court, asking for a technological expert to preserve video evidence. A Dr. Azzopardi, presumably testifying for the defense stated; “It requires particular attention because the occult is involved. This was not a mere hobby: an exorcist had been summoned and had to celebrate Mass in the property. Objects flew, voices in strange languages were heard. This is why there are certain injuries.” We only make the presumption that Dr. Azzopardi was making this statement as an expert, the Times piece was not clear, a Jason Azzopardi was a member of defense counsel, along with Kris Busietta and Julian Farrugia.

Matthew Agius of Malta Today reports his version of this original hearing, pointing out that the defendant had been denied bail after; “… he was arraigned over a sickening case of sexual abuse, allegedly involving the occult.”
Agius writes that Inspector Eman Hayman told the judge the following;

“When I say ‘control’, I mean that the mother has a hobby of practicing the occult. The control would happen because the accused would play on her superstitions by saying that she had opened the door to the devil. He took advantage of her. He would use a particular voice. This was all done to satisfy the man’s sexual fantasies. He would manipulate the woman, giving her all types of commands, ranging from the simple to the sexual.

“He would give the girl commands to have sex with her mother,” the inspector went on. “On one occasion he had ordered the daughter to penetrate her mother with an object, but the daughter could not and so he did it himself.”

In his report Agius leaves no doubt regarding the statement of Dr. Azzopardi as the Times reporter did; he writes of this of what transpired during the hearing:

The defense requested bail. “Neither I nor my colleagues have ever met such a case in over 22 years,” Azzopardi said. “It requires particular attention because the occult is involved. This was not a mere hobby, an exorcist had been summoned and had to celebrate mass in the property. Objects flew, voices in strange languages were heard. The root of the claims is this and this is why there are certain injuries. The accused had been on police bail since last month, had he wanted to speak to one of the witnesses, he had ample time to do that, even though he does not need to,” said the lawyer. “The court should not take the charges at face value, said Azzopardi, reminding that the accused was presumed innocent and that the law was restrictive on when bail should be refused.”

Later in 2019, an Exorcist testified in another hearing, however he painted a different picture of the events. Edwina Brincat, a lawyer herself who has been a court reporter for the Times of Malta, including the original piece that the preceding first above was quoted from, wrote the following of the Priest’s testimony; “’The only ‘paranormal’ activity I noticed was that as I was blessing the house and walked outside, there was nobody, but as soon as I went outside, something fell from the stairs – a broken clock,’ Fr John Vella testified.

Father Vella reported that the Mother had told him she had explored the occult, at times communicating with spirits, using occult paraphernalia, and even placing curses on others. The Exorcist added that she had demonstrated a willingness to repent and has asked him for help.

The Exorcist recanted the claims made by others that they had seen objects fly around the home, glass suddenly breaking and disembodied voices would be heard ordering victims to do unspeakable things.

Defense lawyer Jason Azzopardi asked the Exorcist if he ruled out the possibility of a spirit speaking in a human voice. Edwina Brincat the reporter in this hearing writes; “No,” replied the priest. “But in this case, I didn’t hear this.”

As with so many other cases that were postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis, this case finally went to trial in January of this year. We once again refer to the reports from journalist Matthew Agius from Malta Today, who begins by reviewing the events of the original hearings for his readers, including the sordid details.

After reiterating the nature of the background surrounding the case, Agius continues with the statements of the Inspector who investigated the case:

The victim had told a social worker that she had returned to live with her mother in December 2018. Strange things would happen, lights going out and objects being thrown around, the girl said. At first the voice would command her to do menial tasks, like cleaning, but this later progressed to her and her mother undressing in front of each other.

“On one occasion, the women were ordered to lie face down on the floor…throwing water on them. Then the ‘demon’ had told them to “switch the fan on speed 3”, which theinspector said he thought was a somewhat ridiculous order for a powerful spirit to make.

[…]

“In her account, the mother always expressed her belief that the devil was taking the form of the accused. She would see him [the accused] performing the acts but to her, he was a quiet boy.”

The first time she heard the voice was on 15 August 2018, when it commanded her to tell her daughter to move back in with them. Inspector Hayman explained the mother’s background to the judge. The woman had stronglong-standing occult beliefs and would often use voodoo dolls, dancing rods and take partin other occult practices. “She had been doing this for 10 years but no demon had ever spoken to her. Until the accused moved in, that is.” An exorcist had told the court of magistrates that in his opinion, the woman needed psychological help more than exorcism but had celebrated mass at the house to assuage her fears, added the inspector.

In another article by Matthew Agius titled: ‘Demonic’ rape trial: Exorcist tells judge he saw no satanic activity at home, published by Malta Today, Agius reports the testimony given by the Exorcist Priest. Agius writes:

The Exorcist goes on to tell how he had first been contacted by the Mother and subsequently by her Husband who would come to his Parish seeking help. Later the youngest daughter and her boyfriend who he identified as the accused, would seek him out. While he explained he could not say what he was told under the seal of confession, he did volunteer to share what he had been told by the Mother in the presence of her husband, outside the confessional.

Father Vella stated that the Mother had been involved in occult rituals, he recalled how everyone reported hearing disembodied voices andhow the Mother and her husband asked him to bless the house.

When he visited the home he described it as a mess, Agius writes:

He described the house’s interior as “upside down” – a mess. The floor was strewn with broken glasses, and other objects.

He had blessed the house on his first visit. Amongst other things, they had told him that a grandfather clock had moved by itself to block the corridor, he recalled. On his way out, a clock had fallen o| the wall, he said, but could not be certain that it had not simply fallen for non-supernatural reasons.

Vella had paid a second visit to the house to celebrate mass. He could not recall whether the accused was there but was certain that the mother was present, as was a second man who was described as a friend of the mother’s. “I know he [the friend] was at Mount Carmel with the mother. They told me he was trying to help the family.”

To be sure that there was no demonic presence in the house and to reassure the family occupying it, he had gone together with another priest, to carry out the solemn ritual of exorcism.  Answering a question from the judge, he said that he didn’t feel any particular spiritual presence inside the house during his visits. “Did anything happen during the mass?” asked the court. “I noticed nothing,” he replied.

Agius continues his report detailing how Defense lawyer Mario Mifsud cross-examined the Exorcist.

The lawyer suggested to the priest that a Marian devotion would repel a demonic presence. Vella replied: “Not only. You must also be in a state of grace. If you play with spirits, you are inviting him [Satan] in too.”

The lawyer asked whether the invoking of spirits brought with it an increased risk of being the subject of curses or suffering.

“Let me tell you. When you pray to God’s spirit, you instantly feel the contentedness, because you are close to God. When you pray to evil spirits, you will naturally feel bad.What keeps him at bay is prayer and the sacraments,” Vella responded.

He had felt the need to celebrate Mass, and subsequently carry out an exorcism at the house because the family’s complaint had persisted, despite the initial blessing, said the priest.

The lawyer asked whether any member of the family had ever told him, in private, that they suspected a human being was behind the voice. They hadn’t, he replied.

Mifsud then asked: “Had [the youngest daughter] ever told you in private that you were coming to bless the house for nothing because the voice is the accused and she was too scared of him to say so?”

“I don’t believe I ever spoke to her alone,” Vella said

Apparently, some in Malta were displeased that the court had allowed an Exorcist to testify. Sam Vassallo reporting for LovinMalta.com tells us;

“It is absurd to me that an exorcist testified in a criminal trial, giving an ‘expert’ opinion that there was satanic activity at the victim’s home. That testimony should not be considered as legitimate evidence. This is because satanic activity is not a scientifically verifiable concept and lacks any evidentiary basis.”

“The use of the term ‘demonic possession’ as a defense (or not) for the perpetrator’s actions can raise a number of legal issues. The concept of “demonic possession” is not recognized as a valid legal defense and has no evidentiary basis. Therefore, it cannot be used as a defense in a court of law.”

Ms. Vassallo was quoting the words of Martina Caruana of PB&C who complained to her about the dangers of rhetoric used in the most followed and graphic case in Maltese courts thus far in 2023, the case known as the Satanic rape trial.

Attorney Caruana also noted that allowing the rhetoric of demonic possession could be seen as an attempt to excuse the accused’s actions which in her opinion would have been a miscarriage of justice. Caruana also expressed concern for the publication of the very graphic details of the assaults (most of which we did not include in this report) combined with the assertions of demonic possession as a cause of the perpetrator’s actions can also lead to prejudice and bias in the court process.

It would appear that Attorney Caruana’s concerns, while valid, were not necessary.

Yet another reporter, one writing for the Times of Malta, told of the conclusion of this strange case. Matthew Xuereb submitted the following.

In their final remarks prior to sentencing, the prosecution demanded the maximum sentence for the man, who was 18 at the time he committed the crime and had taken advantage of an entire family, manipulating them just to satisfy his sexual fantasies.

Angele Vella from the Attorney General’s office insisted that the evidence was clear and showed how the man had terrorised them by using what he claimed was the devil’s voice. Prosecutor Vella noted the prosecution had proved the case beyond reasonable doubt, with evidence satisfying all the elements of the crimes of which he is accused.

“This case is so obscene, simply to satisfy his sexual fantasies, that he deserves to be found guilty and given the maximum prison term. The victims said he was smirking and looked entertained during the abuse. This is what this case all about. He manipulated them to satisfy his whims,” Vella said.

The defense countered with the accusation that the victims has all lied about the events, there was no proof that any of the assaults had actually occurred. “We heard so many lies that we cannot even determine who is the bigger liar between the mother and the daughters,” Attorney for the defense, Mario Mifsud, insisted in his concluding remarks on the case.

As he poked holes in the prosecution’s case, Mifsud said there were “serious doubts” about the testimonies of the alleged victims, he insisted that there was “not a shred of scientific evidence” to prove the alleged rape and that the prosecution had failed to bring other evidence such as the bed sheets or a doctor’s examination. “Broomsticks presented as evidence did not have a shred of DNA evidence to prove that they had been used or penetrated anyone’s bodily cavity,” Mifsud added.

“The accused is the victim of this satanic game that the women started and that got out of hand. There is no evidence of illegal arrest because all witnesses confirmed they could leave whenever they wanted. This is a serious deficiency in the case,” he said.

“The alleged victims concocted this entire story to shift the blame on my client. There is no scientific evidence that confirms any part of the story. And the doubt should go in favor of my client.” Apparently the judge did not believe Mifsud’s arguments. Matthew Xuereb submitted the following details of the judge’s findings.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera handed down judgment at the end of a five-day trial without a panel of jurors, at the defence’s request.

The judge observed that this was “a macabre case” that merited a magisterial inquiry that had not been requested by the police. Despite deficiencies in the prosecution, the court was still able to decide the case.

The court said it did not believe that there were spirits in the house and that the accused was behind whatever was happening to the victims.

The judge noted that the victims did not give their consent to any of the sexual abuse they were facing. She referred to the daughters’ testimonies about the use of a broomstick, where they described how their mother was screaming with pain.

She said the court could only rely on the evidence produced and noted inconsistencies in the statements released by the accused.

The judge said she considered that he was still young when the crime was committed, was a first-time offender and always obeyed police rules, including while out on bail. On the other hand, the court considered the multitude of victims and the misery he brought on the entire family.

She ordered him to pay almost €8,000 in court expenses and issued a protection order in favor of the victims. She also ordered that his name is listed in the sexual offenders’ register. In their final remarks prior to sentencing, the prosecution demanded the maximum sentence for the man, who was 18 at the time he committed the crime and had taken advantage of an entire family, manipulating them just to satisfy his sexual fantasies.

A man who pretended to voice a “demon” has been sentenced to 20 years in jail after he was found guilty. Indeed this was a macabre case.

As an Exorcist, I would have to agree with Martina Caruana, the attorney who expressed concern about allowing Father Vella in the capacity of an expert. The reality of possession and demonic activity can not be proven, scientifically, in a court of law. Like all other topics of a spiritual nature, demonic possession is a matter of belief, albeit based upon personal experience. It is hard to remain a skeptic after witnessing an Exorcism.

Therefore to use demonic possession, as either a defense or an accusation by the prosecution, is to invite disaster; because you simply can not prove it. How could an attorney subpoena Satan himself, put him on the witness stand and compel him to answer; “Did you, or did you not possess the accused and cause him to commit horrendous acts?”

This trial occurred in Malta, had it been held in the United States, having allowed Father Vella to testify in the capacity as an Exorcist, the defense would have had basis for an appeal of the guilty verdict.

So was this a case of demonic possession? We may never know. From a legal standpoint, apparently the judge did not think so. The Exorcist did not sense a presence, per se, but why did he go back to perform the exorcism of a locale? Apparently he felt that somehow there was at least demonic oppression involved in the situation.

Given the situation, the judge rendered the only verdict she could have. She did not have the legal latitude to find not guilty by reason of demonic possession.

Therefore it is only fair to say, in these situations like legal entanglement, that Possession isn’t a Possession.


Sources quoted in this article(in no particular order)

Teen used threat of devil to force minor and her mother into sex

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/teen-used-threat-of-devil-to-coerce-minor-to-have-sex-with-him-her.701448

Exorcist called in to testify in alleged rape case

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/exorcist-testifies-in-rape-case.745983

‘Demonic’ rape trial: Exorcist tells judge he saw no satanic activity at home

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/court_and_police/120685/demonic_rape_trial_exorcist_tells_judge_he_saw_no_satanic_activity_at_home#.Y8rP07XMIdU

Maltese Lawyer: ‘Absurd’ That An Exorcist Testified In ‘Satanic’ Rape Trial

https://lovinmalta.com/news/maltese-lawyer-absurd-that-an-exorcist-testified-in-satanic-rape-trial/

Exorcist Summoned To Testify In Trial Over ‘Satanic Abuse’ At Marsaskala Home

https://lovinmalta.com/news/exorcist-summoned-to-testify-in-trial-over-satanic-abuse-at-marsaskala-home/

Man who claimed hearing demonic voice on trial for raping woman and abusing her daughter

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/court_and_police/120650/man_goes_on_trial_accused_of_raping_a_woman_and_forcing_her_into_sex_acts_with_daughter#.Y8rNdbXMIdV

Youth cajoled gullible mum and daughter into bizarre ‘Satanic’ sex abuse

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/court_and_police/92850/youth_cajoled_gullible_mum_and_daughter_into_bizarre_satanic_sex_abuse#.Y8rNcbXMIdV

Exorcist Summoned To Testify In Trial Over ‘Satanic Abuse’ At Marsaskala Home

https://lovinmalta.com/news/exorcist-summoned-to-testify-in-trial-over-satanic-abuse-at-marsaskala-home/

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