Czech appeals court reduces sentence for murder of Romani man to seven years, prosecutor calls it disproportionate, inhumane and unjust
Petr Benda has been sentenced on appeal to just seven years in prison for shooting dead the driver of a van on a housing estate in the Czech town of Chomutov. The High Court in Prague announced the verdict on 28 August, overturning the original verdict, which would have sent the perpetrator behind bars for 12.5 years.
The verdict has taken effect. Benda defended himself by claiming, among other things, that he fired his weapon in self-defense.
The perpetrator said he believed the Romani driver was aiming his van at other cars and people. According to the criminal justice authorities there was no racial subtext to the murder.
"This was just hasty, shortsighted behavior, a poorly-handled situation," presiding Judge Martin Zelenka downplayed the crime when justifying the High Court's assessment of the charges as simple murder and not intentional murder. Benda had been facing between 10 and 18 years in prison for the more serious charge.
The High Court has now given him a sentence that is less than the lawfully-established prison term because it has taken into account the fact that Benda had no prior criminal record, as well as what it called "a certain share of the blame on the part of the injured party". The incident happened at about 3 AM on 27 May 2017 near a block of prefabricated apartments.
Benda's mother had erroneously informed him that somebody was driving into cars outside and probably into people as well. When he looked out the window he spotted a silver van that was in motion.
He loaded his legally-held weapon and ran out in front of the building where, without warning, he fired the gun's entire magazine into the cab of the van. The Romani man behind the wheel was struck several times by Benda's shots, including in the back and chest.
The driver died as a consequence of the serious injuries sustained. Benda has no criminal record, confessed to firing the weapon, and cooperated with police on clarifying the circumstances of the crime.
The only aggravating circumstance identified by authorities was that Benda committed two felonies, murder and property damage (i.e., of the van) when he fired his weapon. In his appeal, Benda sought to have the entire case returned to the Regional Court in order to augment the evidence.
State Prosecutor Kateřina Boudová said the sentencing is disproportionately mild. "We are considering filing for extraordinary remedy because in our opinion there is no reason for a sentence below the normal range to have been handed down in this case," she told journalists after the appeals hearing.
According to the prosecutor, Benda has expressed regret just about his own circumstances, not for his actions, which he still considers to have been absolutely correct. The High Court has also overturned the lower court's 10-year ban on Benda being licensed to hold a weapon, finding it unnecessary.
Benda will automatically lose his license as a consequence of his conviction and will not be able to acquire a new one until 20 years has elapsed from his serving his sentence in full. He must also pay approximately CZK 2 million [EUR 77 700] in compensation to the surviving relatives of the deceased.
The appeals tribunal reduced the compensation awarded to the parents of the deceased from CZK 1.2 million [EUR 47 000] to CZK 350 000 [EUR 13 600] for his father and CZK 300 000 [EUR 12 000] for his mother. In making that decision, the judges pointed out that an argument between the driver and his mother happened immediately prior to the driver getting into the vehicle.
According to the In IUSTITIA organization, which provided legal aid to the family of the victim, that decision is illegal and unjust. "This decision cannot be considered anything but illegal and unjust. The High Court has also now opened the door to similar behavior in the future, so we may see the day when people here will, on the basis of erroneous notions about being authorized to take justice into their own hands, use weapons against their neighbors," the organization said in a statement.
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