A Greek Cypriot army captain who murdered five women and two girls was handed seven life sentences Monday in an unprecedented serial killing case that has shocked the Mediterranean island.
Nikos Metaxas, 35, had pleaded guilty to the premeditated murders, all targeting foreigners, which sparked anger over perceived police racism.
Three of his victims were Filipinas working there, while another girl — the seventh victim recovered by authorities — was a daughter of one of the Filipina victims.
Metaxas carried out the killings between September 2016 and the summer of 2018.
Relatives and friends of the five women — from the Philippines, Romania and Nepal — along with two of their daughters, have accused authorities of neglect over the cases.
Metaxas was led into a Nicosia court under heavy security and stared grimly at the ground as a prosecutor read out a string of charges, including kidnapping and the killings of the women and two of their daughters.
Holding back tears, he pleaded guilty to the accusations one by one.
After the prosecutor read a long document detailing his crimes and how he had hidden the bodies, Metaxas, who faces life in prison, read out a short handwritten statement apologizing to his victims.
He said he was “tortured by memories” and could not explain why he had carried out the killings.
“I acknowledge my guilt,” he said in a shaky voice. “I apologize to the families of the victims and to the souls of the victims.”
“Cypriot society will be wondering how one of its members reached this point. I have also asked myself why; I have not yet managed to find an answer,” he added.
“I have committed hateful crimes.”
In a ruling seen by AFP, a panel of three judges at the Nicosia Criminal Court said Metaxas had “embarked on a campaign to kill defenseless women.”
They handed him seven life terms of 25 years each, five of which will run consecutively. He is not expected to appeal.
He was not punished for the other charges as they were considered part of the murders.
It is the first time in Cypriot legal history that a defendant has faced seven counts of pre-meditated murder.
– Police ‘failings’ –
Cyprus is a prime destination for migrants from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, many of whom are employed as housekeepers and menial workers.
The police’s failure to follow up on reports of women going missing has sparked outrage and led to the dismissal of the police chief and the resignation of the justice minister.
Protesters have accused the police of racism, saying the searches had been botched because the missing women were foreigners.
President Nicos Anastasiades criticized the police for “apparent negligence and dereliction of duty” and acknowledged that better initial investigations could have prevented some of the killings.
The trial comes after a two-month search for the bodies of the victims.
The killings went undetected for nearly three years, coming to light when tourists spotted a body brought to the surface of a mine shaft on April 14 by unusually heavy rains.
The decomposing body of Mary Rose Tiburcio, 38, from the Philippines, was found that day by chance down a flooded mineshaft that was part of an abandoned copper mine.
Four days later, the body of 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano, also from the Philippines, was pulled out of the same mineshaft.
Investigators homed in on Metaxas after scrutinizing the online communications of both women.
Metaxas, a divorced father of two children aged 6 and 9, initially refused to cooperate with investigators. But as the evidence increased, he buckled and confessed in a 10-page handwritten note to the seven killings.
His victims included Romanian Livia Florentina Bunea, 36, and her 8-year-old daughter Elena Natalia; Maricar Valtez Arquiola, 31, from the Philippines; Ashita Khadka Bista, from Nepal; and Tiburcio’s daughter, Sierra Grace.
Metaxas led police to where he disposed of his victims’ bodies; the bound remains of Bunea, her daughter and Arquiola were placed in suitcases and thrown into a toxic lake that was part of the same abandoned mine. Bista’s skeletal remains were found down a dry well inside an army firing range. Tiburcio’s daughter was found in another lake, wrapped in a sheet and weighed down by a rock.
Authorities spent weeks searching the lake with help from Israeli and British experts before finding the body of Tiburcio’s daughter, Sierra Grace, believed to be the killer’s seventh and final victim.
The court heard divers had found the child’s body wrapped in a carpet with a cement block attached to it.
The Cyprus government has agreed to cover the funeral costs of all seven victims and pay 17,000 euros to each surviving child of the victims.
Metaxas had told investigators under questioning that what prompted him to strangle Tiburcio and Bunea was his “hatred” of them and desire for “vengeance” over his suspicions that they prostituted their daughters. He said he choked the children to death as they slept “so that they would no longer have to suffer.”
Prosecutors said investigations found that both mothers were very loving and cared for their children.
All Metaxas’ victims except Bista had been reported missing to police shortly after their disappearanceThe disappearance of Bunea and her daughter in October 2016 was the subject of an investigative report by a local TV reporter, who said police claimed they had good reason to believe that the mother and daughter had crossed into the breakaway north of the ethnically split island.
(Reports from Agence France Presse and Associated Press)