Czech Constitutional Court upholds verdict in 2009 arson case
The Czech Constitutional Court (ÚS) has rejected a complaint filed by two of the perpetrators of an arson attack on a Romani home in the town of Vítkov (Opava district) in 2009. The court ruled that no violations of the Constitution had occurred during their trial and that the justice system had both proceeded correctly and made the correct decision.
Jaromír Lukeš and David Vaculík, currently serving 22 years in prison for racially motivated murder, filed the complaint. The other two men convicted of the crime, Václav Cojocaru and Ivo Müller, did not file complaints regarding their 20-year sentences.
ÚS spokesperson Miroslava Sedláčková informed the Czech News Agency of the court's decision today. The four men, all ultra-right sympathizers, attacked a house occupied by a large Romani family in the early morning hours of 19 April 2009.
The men threw Molotov cocktails through the windows. The house immediately went up in flames.
Three people suffered injuries, the most serious of them an infant named Natálie who was not yet two years old. She suffered burns over 80 % of her body.
The child survived thanks to good luck and top-quality medical care, but her health has been permanently damaged. According to both the Regional Court in Ostrava and the High Court in Olomouc, the perpetrators are guility of committing multiple counts of racially motivated attempted murder and vandalism.
Those verdicts were upheld without exception by the Czech Supreme Court. However, defense attorneys for the arsonists and several legal experts consider the legal qualification of the charges incorrect and the sentencing disproportionately strict given the circumstances and the outcomes.
The defense questioned the legal qualification of the charges in its constitutional complaint, warning of alleged gaps in the evidence, and pointing out the media pressure the justice system faced in the case. The ÚS, however, said the evidence was sound and the courts had proceeded objectively.
The ÚS also ruled that the live broadcast of the trial from the courtroom had not been a violation of the defendants' right to privacy. The court emphasized that any trial is, by its very nature, a public matter, even though the specific circumstances of each trial must always be taken into account.
In the Vítkov case, the broadcasting of the hearings was found to have had no influence on the fairness of the process as a whole. The ÚS judges also found that the sentencing had been properly reasoned.
The courts are said to have correctly taken into account the way in which the defendants had lived their lives prior to committing the crime, as well as the uncritical attitude they adopted toward committing it and the motivation that led them to perpetrate it. "It is precisely that motivation - the mere fact that the victims belonged to a different ethnicity, even though the defendants did not know them at all and had never had any conflict with them - that was one of the pivotal reasons for finding that the crime posed an extreme danger to society and deserved extraordinary sentencing," Sedláčková said.
Lukeš and Vaculík filed their complaint with the ÚS in 2012, which means it took longer than the average criminal case for the court to review it. The reason for the delay was an objection of bias filed against Chief Justice Pavel Rychetský.
The objection pointed to a 2010 television appearance by Rychetský. In that appearance, the Chief Justice said it was praiseworthy that the case of the Vítkov arsonists had come to trial so rapidly.
According to the Third Chamber of the Constitutional Court, which evaluated the objection of bias, Rychetský's statement did not represent an obstacle to his deciding the perpetrators' complaint. It was not possible to infer from that statement that Rychetský had expressed any judgment as to the defendants' guilt or innocence prior to receiving their complaint, which is why he was ultimately able to handle the case.
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