† 17. 5. 1998, Orlová, Czech Republic: The murder of Milan Lacko
The investigation of the death of Milan Lacko, a father of six, took longer than it should have thanks to two abuses in Czech society: Hatred of Roma people, and the unlimited loyalty of police officers for one another. The former caused the testimonies of several witnesses in this case to be rejected, while the latter probably caused the destruction and loss of several pieces of evidence.
A journalistic awakening
"Run, I'll hold them off!" shouted 40-year-old Milan Lacko to his 15-year-old daughter Denisa and her boyfriend when a small group of drunken skinheads jumped them. This quote is from the first report by journalist Marek Wollner of Týden magazine from the scene of the crime. That publication kept the case in the Czech public consciousness for three years.
Wollner's article, called "Bavíme se U Malky" ("Having fun at Malka's") came out seven days after the murder of Lacko, a Roma man, in the North Moravian town of Orlová. It was the 12th piece to report on the tragedy.
In 1998, Lacko's murder was the second committed by neo-Nazis within the course of three months. In those days the perpetrators were still imprecisely called "skinheads". At the end of January 1998, three young neo-Nazis had thrown a Molotov cocktail into the home of the Kováč family, also Roma, in Krnov. Resident Emílie Žigová was severely burned over 40 % of her body and her husband's leg was burned.
It was no longer possible to keep news of yet another racial murder on the crime pages alone - especially when all of the large European dailies were reporting it - so all of the leading Czech media reported on the case at great length. This was also the first time, in the case of a Roma victim, when the publication of gossip and negative facts about the murder victim's life were not the forefront of attention. The Czech public did learn that Milan Lacko had been convicted of theft in the past, but they also learned that he had been a religious father of six and had led an otherwise uneventful life.
Judging from the responses to the reporting and the statements of local police officers and the mayor, most of Czech society saw the case differently. The perpetrators, once again, were seen as young louts who had just overdone it a little. The fact considered most important about the victim was that his blood alcohol level had been 1.79, the equivalent of four large beers. Let's recall what actually happened on that side road in front of the pub "U Malky".
Reconstruction of that night
They had missed the last bus, so Milan Lacko, his daughter Denisa, and her boyfriend Mirek were walking home from visiting Lacko's mother-in-law. In a good mood, and carrying a hamper of home-made blood sausage wrapped in a plastic bag, they walked past the "U Malky" pub, where a disco was being held just like every Saturday.
Suddenly a half-liter beer glass struck Denisa on the shoulder. They immediately heard shouts of "Niggers! Fags!" and several drunken skinheads wearing steel-toed boots rose up from the wooden benches to liven up their Saturday night by beating people up.
Milan Lacko, who was of slight build, decided to fight off the alcohol-fueled gang and give the young couple a chance to flee. Denisa and Mirek hid in the garden of a nearby house. Their selfless father was kicked by the neo-Nazis and then left in the middle of the road, where a car subsequently ran over him. He did not survive.
In the meantime the young couple had asked the occupants of the house for help. They called the police but were themselves too afraid to let the scared couple into the house or to join them.
Police officer an accomplice
In the meantime the police were on the scene. They originally thought it had been a fatal car accident. Thanks to the testimony of Denisa and her boyfriend Mirek, however, they soon saw everything in a different light. Mirek (16) confirmed to the police officers that the dead man lying in the road was Milan Lacko, and he and Denisa later described what had happened on that fateful night.
Two days later, four local youths were taken into custody. Three of them - David Jureczek, Pavel Fučo, and Leo Fiedor, were still minors (all 16), while the fourth, Petr Domes, was 20.
Even though the four youths were already a known quantity in Orlová, the first statement by district police director Karel Heran showed he was inclined toward clemency. "They're just a bunch of louts," he told a journalist from the daily Mladá fronta DNES. The youngest "lout", Jureczek, a special school graduate, was known in the small town for his brutality and his sympathy for the racist branch of the skinhead movement. Only a few months prior he had beaten up another randomly selected Roma person on the street.
Moreover, from the beginning the investigating police officers from Karviná not only made strange statements to the media, but started working with special certainty on a version of events in which the injured Lacko had been run over by not one, but two vehicles. One was said to have been a truck transporting ash from the nearby power plant in Dětmarovice, whose driver took off, while the second vehicle was said to have been a personal car whose driver called for an ambulance and police.
This version of events was subsequently confirmed by a controversial opinion given by court medical expert Igor Dvořáček, who claimed the four neo-Nazis had beaten Lacko "only with weak intensity" (because he had not suffered serious head injury) and that a truck had run over him in a crouched or seated position. The truck rolled him under its five axles for a distance of 40 meters, which caused the fatal injury, a tearing of the chambers of the heart. When the driver of the second, personal vehicle - who was a colleague of the police - ran Lacko over, he was practically already dead.
The court in Karviná worked with this version of two vehicles, backed up only by the expert witness, without taking exception to it. In August of that year the four neo-Nazis heard a very mild verdict in their case – suspended sentences of between 15 - 22 months.
The youths benefited from the fact that the incident had been divided into two files and therefore between two trials. One trial addressed the assault itself, while the other was a charge of unintentional grievous bodily harm and failure to provide aid. The perpetrator in the second trial was never identified and the truck and its driver were never found.
A driver from the power plant in Dětmarovice was interrogated and consistently claimed he was innocent. The truck he had been driving that night provided no clues. Marián Telega, the driver of the personal vehicle who was also a police officer, was never charged or tested for his blood alcohol level. No clues were found on his vehicle either.
It was as if there was no direct connection between the assault and the victim being run over. However, if the four had not attacked Lacko, he would not have ended up lying down in the road. The court's message was: The Roma man was beaten up a bit, but because he was drunk, he did not manage to get out of the road and an unidentified truck ran him down.
During the trial, friends of the defendants were present who openly voiced their racist opinions and threatened the Roma people present. Police in the courtroom did not intervene even after journalists present pointed out to them what was going on.
The absurdly low sentences outraged not only the press, but primarily the representative of the local Roma. Jakub Polák, an anarchist who acted as the Lacko family's attorney-in-fact, decided not to let the matter rest and compiled 10 pages of material directly from the case file that pointed out many inconsistencies and mistakes made by the investigators. "It seems highly unlikely that the victim, after being hit by the bumpers of two vehicles in the back, would not have experienced more serious injuries to the trunk or limbs, not to mention the head," Polák wrote in an analysis which he sent to the Office of the President and the chair of the Czech Government Human Rights Council, Petr Uhl.
Týden magazine reporter Marek Wollner published an overview of the errors and inaccuracies. The story of the moldy moccasins became the most famous: "… the most ferocious assailant, David Jureczek, submitted a pair of moccasins overgrown with mold for the court to test instead of his steel-tipped boots," Wollner wrote in an article entitle "Racism in moccasins". The piece revived interest in the Lacko case once more. In the meantime state prosecutor Josef Bláha appealed the verdict and the trial continued before the Regional Court in Ostrava.
The appeals court returned the case for reinvestigation because it concluded the final moments of Lacko's life had taken place other than the verdict described. Three other court experts refuted Igor Dvořáček's analysis, but he continued to insist on his conclusions.
The investigating police officers had to explain to the court why many pieces of evidence were unavailable and why they were unable to agree on basic facts, such as the position of the body. A reconstruction of the case confirmed Milan Lacko had been run over by only one vehicle, the personal vehicle of police officer Marián Telega.
Deputy Police Director Jan Jonáš considered the first investigation to have been objective and refused to comment on the errors even after it came to light that Telega had been previously convicted of grievous bodily harm but had been allowed to remain on the force. The four neo-Nazis were then convicted of grievous bodily harm resulting in death: Petr Domes received three years without parole, David Jureczek 16 months without parole, and Pavel Fučo and Leo Fiedor received suspended sentences, as did police officer Telega, who unintentionally ran over Lacko.
Three of the five neo-Nazis who verbally assaulted Roma people in the courtroom during the first hearing in Karviná were sentenced to sentences of between 14 - 16 months without parole. Jakub Polák, the Lacko family's attorney-in fact, was awarded the František Kriegl prize in the year 2000 by the Charter 77 Foundation. Milan Lacko is buried at the cemetery in Orlová.
The May issue of Romano voďi will feature a report directly from the scene of the murder of Milan Lacko 13 years later.
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