12 February, 2010

Greek Tragedy - Part I

Stephen Anas had been a regular customer at his local BP Service Station in Summer Hill for at least two years. It was owned by Louis Soravia. He was good friends with console operater Hakki Souleyman, who seemed to harbour some resentment towards his employer. He had made some comments to a fellow employee Hedley about being ripped off by Mr Soravia and that he wanted to 'get him' one day, and that "I should get someone to knock me on the head when I've got the takings", but Hedley thought he was just "blowing off steam" or "mouthing off", which of course is not uncommon in employer-employee relationships, as we all know. Nonetheless, it seems Hakki may have harboured some resentment towards Mr Soravia.
Steve Anas took advantage of this, and began to discuss money handling arrangements with Hakki, and eventually talked to him about robbing the service station. Hakki's brother said in an early police interview that Steve was coming in once or twice a week and putting some pressure on Hakki, saying "we'll do the service station job.. its all organised, all planned Haks, you've got nothing to worry about. Just tell us what time they do the banking." One day Steve came in and showed him a small black pistol. He said it was just to scare people so they could take the money. According to Hakki he didn't know if it was meant to be loaded or not - all he was meant to do was let them know the time the Soravia's go to the bank.

At trial Hakki denied all knowledge that Anas was planning to rob the service station, or that he had even known or heard of Anas. Hakki's brother also recanted his statements to the police.
Steve Anas was also good friends with David Zammit through mutual connections at a window tinting business called Instint. It was unclear if Hakki ever met Zammit - he certainly denied any knowledge of him at trial. However there was the statement of a "Mr A", who was Hakki's cellmate in Long Bay, who said that Hakki told him he had met both Anas and Zammit before the intended robbery (along with a man called something like 'Julio'), and supplied them with the details they wanted. Hakki said he did it because he needed the money - he was behind in his car and house payments, and was not getting paid enough by Mr Soravia. He told Mr A that he was not supposed to know Zammit, but had seen him at jail visits and spoken to him on a number of occasions. Mr A said Hakki told him that he knew for sure that Zammit had shot his boss, and that Anas was driving.

Jail records confirmed that Zammit had visited the jail at the relevant times, and that the two had opportunity to speak. But the jury never heard Mr A's evidence, as it was considered too prejudicial for a number of reasons (these included the fact that Mr A had a criminal record that included dishonesty offences; that he had been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder that apparently made him prone to pathological lying; and general law that states that the uncorroborated evidence of an informant who hoped to receive a discount in his own sentence is unreliable).
At around 9:30am on 26 April 1994 Hakki spoke to Anas on the phone, and gave him important information about the contents of the till, the times the banking would be done, and the colour and make of the car Mr Soravia would drive to the bank, carrying almost $7,000. Unfortunately on this day, Mr Soravia asked his wife Toula a favour - that she would bank the takings for him. She agreed, and took his car.
At about 11:00 am, Toula left the service station with her 17-year-old son Alex, heading for the Westpac Bank with the weekend's takings. Just as they pulled up outside the bank, Zammit leaned in through the passenger-side window, pulled the pistol from the front of his pants and pushed it against Alex's head. Alex instinctively brushed it away at first, not realising what it was. Then he saw Zammit leaning into the car, holding the gun in his right hand. He yelled "where's the money? Where's the money?". Toula began to scream. Zammit leaned further into the car, across Alex, and pushed the pistol against Toula's cheek. Alex tried to hit Zammit's arm away. Zammit continued to shout at Toula and threaten her, then Alex saw him shoot his mother. The car filled up with smoke. Toula died almost instantly from her head injuries.

Zammit grabbed the bag of cash and ran across the street, where he was picked up by the driver of a white Toyota Corolla. Some passers-by gave chase, one of them yelling "stop him, he's got the money", but were unsuccessful. Ricky Patman was in his car at the time and tried to chase the Toyota, but was cut off by a garbage truck. Anthony Mimica also joined the pursuit but was similarly foiled by the reversing garbage truck. A bus driver saw the white Toyota swerve around the garbage truck and hit a speed bump, causing its exhaust to hang down. As the car raced off, it nearly collided with Eugene Benitez, who yelled at the driver. Zammit looked out of the passenger window and swore at him.

Eugene was less than a metre away from the car at the time, and later positively identified Zammit from police identification photographs and videotape. He said Zammit's haircut was different, but on seeing the face, he said "bingo". Alex Soravia also positively identified Zammit from police photographs, stating "yes, that's the one I saw. There is no doubt whatsoever. I could never be more definite of anything in my entire life. The photo of that man ... is the man that took my mother's life, that is the fact I will live with until the day I die."

Several witnesses described one of the offenders wearing pink-soled running shoes, and mirrorred sunglasses with a cord. Both these items were found during a search of Stephen Anas' home.

The white Toyota Corolla was recovered on 27 April in St Peters. The number plate (partially damaged) was SDO 359, which matched the details supplied by Ricky Patman, as well as two other witnesses, and its exhaust pipe was hanging down. Police found that the car was used in connection with the Instint window tinting business.
Jullio Quinteros, the owner of Instint, said that when he left the workshop on 23 April, the white Toyota was there, but was absent when he returned to work on 26 April. However, he did notice that Steve Anas's motorbike was parked on the footpath. Anas and Zammit arrived at the shop between 12:30 and 1pm.
Zammit claimed he had been to Instint on the 25th April, but on the morning of the 26th he was at home with his mother. He said he spoke to a couple across the road - Andrew Rice and Melissa Borland - and a neighbour, Jackie Loveridge, and spent the afternoon at Michael Atsis' place. Rice said he'd seen Zammit at his gate at 11:00 am, and Loveridge said she spoke to him from 11:05 to 11:20am. However both were discredited when it was discovered they had criminal records for dishonesty and misleading police. Melissa Borland has no recollection of seeing Zammit. Michael Atsis refused to speak to police and could not be found to call as a witness. Zammit's parents also refused to speak with police.
At trial, the defence tried to discredit both Alex Soravia's and Eugene Benitez's positive identification of Zammit, saying that they must have seen news items showing the Identikit sketches put together by other witnesses. However it was apparent that these sketches bore little resemblance to Zammit, and had been perhaps confused with some of the chasers at the scene. Defence also submitted that Alex was too distressed to have seen the shooter properly, and Eugene had only a "split second" to see the man in the car. Both these arguments were clearly rejected.
At Hakki Souleyman's first trial, he was charged with accessory before the fact of murder, however the jury was unable to reach a verdict, telling the judge they stood deadlocked at 11:1 in favour of finding Souleyman guilty. At the second trial he was acquitted altogether of that charge, but found guilty of the lesser offence of being an accessory before the fact of armed robbery, and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in April 2000.

David Zammit was convicted of the murder of Toula Soravia (pictured below), and sentenced to 24 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 years. He was also sentenced to ten years for the armed robbery.

Stay tuned for Part II - the trial of Stephen Anas.

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