A MYSTERY Moroccan could hold the key to a trial where a Wearside grandad stands accused of murder.
On the first day of the hearing in Tenerife, a court was told how Stephen Johnson denied killing a man during a fight outside a bar.
Lawyers for the 56-year-old Hetton businessman are blaming a Moroccan man for the death.
Johnson is jointly accused, with 31-year-old Bryan O’Connell, from Liverpool, of fatally stabbing the man in 2008.
The case is being tried by jury at the Criminal Court in the Tenerife capital, Santa Cruz, and is expected to last until Friday.
In his opening statement, the State Prosecutor warned the jury to expect “a very complicated week ahead,” due to the conflicting versions they will hear from the three defendants – Johnson, O’Connell and Barry McCarten, accused of helping O’Connell avoid arrest – and three locals who witnessed the incident.
Under cross-examination, O’Connell corroborated Johnson’s argument that the Hetton grandfather, who runs Stepy’s Coaches, was not involved in the initial fight.
This was contrary to the prosecution’s insistence that both men went looking for the victim and his colleague, who were both Moroccan, after an earlier incident in the Stage Door bar in the resort of Playa de Las Américas.
In their opening statements, the lawyers of both men blamed the second Moroccan, who has since disappeared, for the death of his compatriot.
Fernando Mesa, defending Mr Johnson, described the case against his client as “flimsy” and based entirely on circumstantial evidence, which he was confident would be shown up for what it was in the coming days.
He told the court: “The state has been building castles in the air from the outset, which have resulted in Mr Johnson having a serious charge hanging over him for more than three years, not to mention the prospect now of a 10-year sentence.
“A doctor’s examination at the time of his arrest showed he had no marks of any kind on his hands to suggest he was fighting.
“He tried to intervene to stop the dangerous brawl, was struck heavily on the head for his efforts and left the scene to get treatment. He did not even know anyone had been killed until he was stopped later by police.
“Moreover, forensics say the stabbing was committed by a left-handed person, when both defendants are right-handed.
“The prosecution has done nothing to trace the second Moroccan involved because his testimony would ruin its case.”
Although the State originally requested an eight-year term for the killing, the prosecutor informed the court at the beginning of the trial that he would be seeking a higher tariff of between 10 and 15 years if the two men are found guilty.
The trial began in some confusion when Mr Johnson’s wife Joan and a family friend were ordered to leave the courtroom because, unknown to them, they are to be called as witnesses tomorrow.
The trial will continue today with questioning of Mr Johnson by the prosecution.