When we came back from lunch at around 3pm, George Degiorgio leaned across the dock to whisper in the ears of his lawyers. This morning, he had derided his legal aid lawyers, saying they were poorly prepared and they couldn’t represent him and his brother. Now he was speaking to them in a gentler tone.

The judge came in from the break but Simon Micallef Stafrace, one of the Degiorgio’s legal aid lawyers said he needed 5 more minutes. The judge said she’d leave the hall for 5 minutes and come back to call in the jury.

Five minutes became 30, then an hour, then two, as lawyers for the prosecution, for the defence, and for the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia whispered in each others’ ears.

We started hearing about what was happening behind the scenes. What follows comes from multiple sources though this account of events might yet evolve as more details are confirmed and some others possibly debunked.

The most consistent version I have heard is that George Degiorgio was impressed by Philip Galea Farrugia’s opening statement this morning, or at least the portion of the presentation the prosecutor had managed to deliver before the judge called time for lunch at 1pm.

Philip Galea Farrugia was explaining to jurors the evidence he was planning to show them over the next several days and weeks of trial. He spoke in a gentle tone reassuring his audience of 9 jurors and 5 substitutes that once they would recover from the shock of being selected for jury duty in the trial of the century the complexity of the evidence would eventually start making sense, even to them.

By the time the lunch break came Philip Galea Farrugia explained how the police caught up with the Degiorgios and their accomplice Vince Muscat. He told the story of three mobile numbers registered in their names, three other phones bought just before the murder the location of each one matching the location of each of their phones, and then another phone that was with the two phones George Degiorgio had in his possession and from which an SMS was sent to the detonator in Daphne’s car.

None of this was new to anyone who has been following this case for the last five years. It seems, or so informed sources are suggesting, that for the first time George Degiorgio realised just how disarmingly simple and convincing the state’s case against him and his brother is. It seems that for the first time he understood no jury could ever acquit them.

It appears that stunned by this speech, George Degiorgio spoke to his brother over lunch and told him he was seeing no way out. It was time to throw in the towel.

Alfred Degiorgio did not look too good this morning. He was in his fourth day of a hunger strike where he wasn’t even drinking water. He was covered in a white blanket. It seemed he wasn’t wearing trousers though I’m not sure of that detail. I could see he looked tired and generally unwell. But he was awake and alert.

Alfred Degiorgio and George Degiorgio instructed their lawyers to pull out and change their plea saying they would plead guilty in exchange of a 30-year sentence instead of life. We’re hearing prosecutors insisted on 40. The trial had now started and the state had spent enormous resources to start this process. Prosecutors were in no mood to give the Degiorgios bonuses for their last-minute change of heart.

As it happened the Degiorgios agreed, signing a joint application for a plea deal of 40 years together with the responsibility to pay court costs and to have their property confiscated.

The judge from behind the scenes called in a psychiatrist to confirm both Degiorgios were in the right state of mind to decide irrevocably their own fate.

At around 5:30 pm we saw movement in the court chamber again. Lawyers put back their togas and shuffled to their seats. The judge walked in and, rhetorically, asked “what shall we do?”

Simon Micallef Stafrace, perhaps a bit confused, told the judge “You say”. “Should I?” she retorted. “Shall I call back the jurors?”

The defence lawyer got his cue. In a soft voice he said the defence was prepared to change their position.

“Change it how?”

“They want to plead guilty.”

The judge called up the doctor who had been following Alfred Degiorgio’s state of health during his hunger strike. The doctor confirmed that Alfred’s vitals were normal and he was still perfectly fit to know what he’s doing. The doctor was followed by the psychiatrist. He examined both Degiorgios, he said, and they knew what they were doing.

The judge asked George Degiorgio to stand up. She asked him how he pleads to all the charges brought against him. “Ħati” he said in a loud, clear voice. “Guilty”.

She turned to Alfred, still in his wheelchair, but now the blanket’s gone and he’s definitely wearing trousers. Dimly, barely audibly, he said “ħati”. The judge repeated the word for him.

At this point Judge Grima warned the Degiorgios that they had just admitted to a crime punishable by a life in prison. She gave them a last opportunity to change their mind. “Ħati” came George’s loud plea. “Ħati” mumbled Alfred.

The prosecutor Philip Galea Farrugia introduced the application countersigned by the Caruana Galizia’s lawyers and the lawyers appearing for the Degiorgios that they were jointly recommending a 40-year sentence.

The judge called in the jurors who had been in isolation since 3 pm waiting to be allowed in to listen to the prosecutor’s second half of his gripping introduction. They must have thought something was afoot after waiting so long. When the judge told them what had happened, that the Degiorgios had admitted their guilt and they, the jurors, were no longer needed, some of the jurors looked at each other knowingly, confirming their shared suspicions during their long, curious wait.

They left the room in line for the last time, ending in a day a task they were still adjusting to expect would take them several weeks.

When they left Judge Edwina Grima retired to consider the sentence. In theory she can hand down a different sentence if what has been agreed in the plea bargain is not to her liking. That seems unlikely now.

Forty years is a long time. It’s not the harshest penalty on our books and this has been the harshest crime we can imagine, wilful, cold-blooded homicide.  And yet, to me at least, this feels like a reasonable outcome. This feels like justice.

The fact that the jury was cut short did not mean that any evidence has been hidden from the public. All the evidence that could be used against the Degiorgios in this trial has already been heard even if perhaps not as devastatingly eloquently as Philip Galea Farrugia may have planned it for this trial. The fact is the truth about the involvement of the Degiorgios is known.

Their admission ties up their responsibility for this crime. They did it. Without any nagging doubt. We now can say what we’ve known for most of the past five years, what they’ve done, how they ended Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life for money. We no longer need to say these are allegations. They are no longer presumed innocent. Our loudly expressed opinions of them are no longer a cause of a possible prejudice to their right to a fair hearing. They are guilty. By their own admission.

What also adds a layer of relative peace to this outcome is that Daphne’s family supported the punishment agreed by the state and the defence. This contrasts with how they felt about the absurdly reduced sentence against Vince Muscat whose plea bargain gave him a 15-year sentence. Quite independently of the differing circumstances of Muscat and the Degiorgios it is of some relative comfort to know that Daphne’s family appear to be at peace with this outcome.

As I write this Daphne’s parents have joined the rest of their family to be present as sentence on their daughter’s killers (two of them at least) is handed down. That seems fair.

Of course, we’re nowhere near the end of this road. The Degiorgios are down but there are other conspirators in the plot to kill Daphne for whom we still don’t have a date for a trial. While lawyers in this court whispered in each others’ ears about what the Degiorgios had decided to do, Charles Mercieca, Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer was seen pouring his own share of whispers.

The road to justice is long but today we have walked past a milestone.