Appeal proceedings for four Vítkov arsonists start today
Today an appeals court in Olomouc began hearing arguments from the four extremists accused of the arson attack on a Roma home in Vítkov in 2009. The defendants are attempting to overturn last October's verdict in which the Ostrava Regional Court handed down extraordinary sentences of between 20 and 22 years at the end of a closely watched trial.
All four defendants are asking the appeals court to return their case to the Regional Court because they believe murderous intent was not substantiated. Petr Angyalossy, spokeperson for the High Court in Olomouc, says the defendants are claiming to have not known that people were in the home at the time of the attack. A decision should be handed down tomorrow.
The state prosecutor, who requested extraordinary sentencing for three of the defendants, did not appeal the Regional Court verdict. She considers the sentencing fair.
The appeals hearing is receiving enormous public interest and is accompanied by extraordinary security measures. The largest courtroom at the High Court, with a capacity of around 50 seats, was completely filled at the start of the proceedings.
The Regional Court in Ostrava sentenced David Vaculík, Ivo Müller and Jaromír Lukeš to prison for 22 years and Václav Cojocaru to prison for 20 years. It also required they jointly pay compensation and damages to the victims of more than CZK 17 million. All four men are charged with multiple counts of racially motivated attempted murder. They were convicted under the criminal code applicable at the time, which required sentences of 12-14 years in prison or extraordinary punishment. Had they committed their attack nine months later, they would have faced between 15-20 years in prison or extraordinary punishment.
According to the Regional Court verdict, the men, who are members of extremist groups, planned and then carried out an attack on a Roma home in Vítkov during the night of 19 April 2009 in an effort to gain publicity for their movement prior to the 120 anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler. Wearing masks and armed with Molotov cocktails, they drove to a home they had previously targeted and which they knew was occupied by a large Roma family with small children. Vaculík, Müller and Cojocaru each took up a position in front of a different window of the home, set fire to the wicks of their Molotov cocktails, and threw them through the windows. They then left the scene in a car driven by Lukeš.
The house caught fire immediately. Three people were injured in the blaze including Natálie, who was not yet two years old at the time and who suffered burns over more than 80 % of her body. She subsequently lost three fingers and will suffer the repercussions of the attack for the rest of her life. The other five people in the home managed to flee in time. The house burned down completely and had to be demolished.
Experts on extremism concluded that all four of those eventually convicted were active North Moravian neo-Nazis who had succumbed to neo-Nazi ideology and espoused racism. This was proven by objects found by police when searching the defendants' homes as well as by the work of court experts.
The court handed down longer sentences to Vaculík, Müller and Lukeš primarily because they planned the action together, allegedly as something to do in lieu of a trip to a neo-Nazi demonstration in Bohemia, which seemed too expensive to them. All three had previously been convicted of violent crimes or promoting Nazism. Cojocaru was given a shorter sentence because this was his first offense. He had no part in the organization of the attack and joined the others at the last moment.
The High Court in Olomouc reviewed a similar arson case last week, that of an arson attack on a Roma home in the Ostrava settlement of Bedřiška in March last year. A young man was sentenced to four years in prison and his mother, who instructed him to perform the crime, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. The Regional Court had originally handed down suspended sentences. The High Court evaluated the youth's crime, in which he also threw a Molotov cocktail into a home, as attempted reckless endangerment. The mother was convicted of abetting reckless endangerment.
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