Southcote woman 'strangled by her ex' court hearsBy Laura McCardle
May 16, 2012
A jealous Southcote man strangled his ex-girlfriend to death days after she aborted his baby, a court has heard.
Joaquim Marrafa, 46, of Coronation Square, is on trial at Reading Crown Court accused of murdering 38-year-old Sandra Maralhas on Friday, November 11, last year.
She was found by officers at a ground floor flat, which the couple had shared until they separated in the July, after Marrafa handed himself into the police.
Alan Blake, prosecuting, told the court on Monday that Marrafa, had visited Circuit Lane GP surgery with the mother-of-six on the morning of her death as he required treatment for depression.
CCTV footage played to the jury showed the pair leaving the practice at 12.08pm with their youngest son in a pushchair. They can be tracked walking towards the Coronation Square flat at 12.14pm.
At 1.02pm, Marrafa, with his young child, is seen walking towards Southcote Road, where he caught a bus to Reading town centre.
The footage shows him leaving the bus in Oxford Road before walking through Broad Street Mall and exiting the shopping centre on to Hosier Street.
The court heard the defendant then went to the police station where he told someone on the front desk he had come to report a crime.
When asked what the crime was, he said “I’ve killed my girlfriend” and signalled a strangling action with his hands.
Mr Blake told the court Marrafa, also known as Luis, was described as “calm and almost emotionless”.
Officers sped to the flat in Coronation Square, where they found Miss Maralhas’ body at the foot of the bed in the main bedroom. Attempts to resuscitate her failed and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
The court heard the couple, both Portuguese nationals who were together for between 12 and 13 years, had a turbulent relationship with police called to their home on several occasions.
Mr Blake told the jury Marrafa had “exhibited jealous and controlling behaviour” to Miss Maralhas, which “on occasions manifested itself in physical violence”.
He also said the defendant had made several threats to kill his ex-girlfriend in the past.
Giving evidence, Rute Maralhas told the court how her sister went to live with her in July last year. She said she received a message from one of her nephews asking her to call the police and then collect them, stating they were “in trouble”.
Miss Maralhas said her sister continued to meet Marrafa on Mondays and Thursdays at Reading Station so she could give him his share of the benefit she received for both of them.
She told the court that on Monday, November 7, last year, Miss Maralhas was “very upset” when she returned from their meeting and that her handbag was ripped.
It was then that Miss Maralhas said she had aborted Marrafa’s baby earlier that day and that he knew nothing of the child nor the termination.
Marrafa denies murder but accepts he strangled Miss Maralhas, causing her death.
Mr Blake told the court Marrafa does not remember the killing itself and has “claimed amnesia”.
Victim’s son tells jury of ‘years of violence’
The eldest son of Sandra Maralhas told Reading Crown Court that Marrafa had been violent towards him, his mother and his siblings “on numerous occasions over the years”.
Rui Castro, 20, also told the jury Marrafa had said he might as well kill her because at least then he would go to prison and have a roof over his head and “three meals a day in his belly”.
He said he had gone into care voluntarily at 11 and then again at 13, because he did not get on with Marrafa.
He described a night when he packed his bags and those of this brothers and sisters and left the house in Coronation Square in Southcote after Marrafa had wrecked the place, slapped his mother and kicked her.
They family went to an aunt and called the police.
Mr Castro said Marrafa had made his mother crawl across the room suffering from an asthma attack, refusing to allow him to get her inhaler for her.
During the weeks before his mother’s death Mr Castro – who had been living rough – went to live alone with Marrafa. His mother and the rest of the family had left months before.
He described how Marrafa “stalked” his mother on the internet, tracking when she was using a computer through Facebook and gambling websites.
Under cross-examination he said his mother was in debt, owing about £18,000, part of which was due to gambling.
Mr Castro said the week before his mother died Marrafa had become very odd.
He seemed “more tense than normal” and also had “decided to give up”.
He said Marrafa told him he had taken an overdose of pills, but he had not seen any sign of it.
The day before his mother died he met her in town with his aunt and told her it was “not a good idea to go to the property alone”.
He told the court: “Her reaction was ‘Pff you know how he is’. Exactly that.”
Under cross examination, he denied that he was exaggerating the level of violence and denied that Marrafa had only ever slapped him once.
GP Dr David Horne told the court that Marrafa and Miss Maralhas came to his surgery on Friday, November 11, the morning before she was found dead.
He said she had called in the morning, saying her ex-partner was depressed.
During the consultation he said Marrafa had said he was depressed because of the break-up in the relationship.
He asked Miss Maralhas if there was a chance of reconcilliation and she had responded “that the social services were involved on account of the children”.
He asked Marrafa to fill in a standard questionnaire to ascertain how depressed he was and he filled it in with unusual rapidity.
He altered his answer to the question about whether he had thoughts of self-harm from “almost every day” to the much less severe once or twice in the last two weeks.
Nevertheless the doctor took his answers “at face value” and prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills.
He said if Marrafas had stuck to his first answer about feeling suicidal almost every day, he would have called in the community mental health team at once.
The trial continues.