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Two men accused of killing Italian waiter Joele Leotta above Vesuvius restaurant in Maidstone, told a court they acted in self-defence

By Anna Young

Two Lithuanian men claim they acted in self-defence on the night Italian waiter Joele Leotta was killed, a jury has heard.

Linas Zidonis, 21, Saulius Tamoliunas, 24, are two of four men accused of murdering Mr Leotta in a bedsit above Vesuvius restaurant in Lower Stone Street, Maidstone.

The other defendants are Aleksandras Zuravliovas, 27, of Beaumont Road and Tomas Gelezinis, 31, of Lower Stone Street, who are also from Lithuania.

Tragic Joele Leotta had only just arrived in Kent when he was fatally injured

They all deny killing the 20-year-old on Sunday, October 20 last year and wounding his friend Alex Galbiati, also 20, with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

This week at Maidstone Crown Court, childhood friends Zidonis, of no fixed address, and Tamoliunas, of Union Street, admitted fighting with the two Italians but insist it was in self defence.

Zidonis said: “I was only defending myself...they attacked me. I did not start to attack them.” He added: “(I feel) bad...because that man died because of some mistake.”

Police investigate the scene in Lower Stone Street

The jury has heard Zidonis, Zuravliovas and Tamoliunas had been drinking together before visiting Gelezinis’ home, which he shared with other Lithuanians.

After a disagreement between the group, Zidonis said he found Zuravliovas outside the Italians’ room on the level below.

Zidonis told the court he and has friend could smell cannabis and decided to knock on the boys’ door. He said a fight broke out after the door opened and Zuravliovas was struck on the head.

He admitted fighting with one of the men, thought to be Mr Galbiati, and beating him with a broom.

Joele Leotta

Zidonis said: “Aleksandras came and pulled him off me. Then I stood up and saw my friends, Saulius Tamoliunas and Tomas Gelezinis, in the same room. They were fighting the other man.”

While giving evidence in court, Tamoliunas said: "I saw Aleksandras and (one of the) Italians started to fight and one of the Italians went to assault me."

Tamoliunas admitted striking the man. He said: "When I kicked him, he was on his knees."

Zidonis told the jury they all left the building when it clear the Italians "didn't want to fight anymore" but Tamoliunas and Zuravliovas decided to return and he followed.

"I remember Saulius and Aleksandras said 'we are going back to that house", he said. "Aleksandras wanted to wash his face."

The Vesuvius restaurant in Lower Stone Street, the scene of a murder last October.

The accused said he found his friends fighting with Mr Galbiati in the bathroom. He claims he was then assaulted by the other Italian, Mr Leotta.

He said: “Another man came at me and attacked me. That man started hitting me with his fists and kicking me...then my friends came to help me.

"They pulled the man off me to one side and I can’t say which one, Aleksandras or Saulius, kicked him. Then the man stood up and he started running towards the main exit.”

Philippa McAtasney QC, prosecuting, challenged the defendant’s account. She said: “The last time you saw Joele he was being attacked by two of your friends.

“He was barely conscious. Are you seriously suggesting he has got up...and attacked you?”
Zidonis replied: “It’s hard to say when it’s happening so fast.” But Miss McAtasney QC said: “It’s hard to say Mr Zidonis when it’s complete fiction.”

The prosecution claims the defendants forced their way into the Italians’ room because they wrongly believed they were responsible for a noise complaint made about noise from Gelezinis’ floor.

Alex Galbiati, a childhood friend of Joele Leotta, was wounded in the attack

Childhood friends Mr Leotta and Mr Galbiati, from Italy’s Lecco province, had arrived in the UK six days earlier and were working in the restaurant.

Mr Leotta suffered 100 injuries.

Miss McAtasney previously told the court how the victims were “punched, kicked and hit with whatever came to hand” when intruders "forced their way into their room" on the night of the fatal incident.

The trial continues.

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