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Czech court: 2.5 years for arson attempt on Romani-occupied building

České Budějovice, 25.4.2014 23:38, (ROMEA)
A drunken man did his best to set this building where Romani families live on fire on 14 July 2013 in České Budějovice. (Photo:  5plus2)
A drunken man did his best to set this building where Romani families live on fire on 14 July 2013 in České Budějovice. (Photo: 5plus2)

The District Court in České Budějovice has announced its verdict in an attempted arson case from last year. The perpetrator was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison without the possibility of parole for intending to commit intending to commit felony intimidation. 

The court has also ordered the man to undergo treatment for alcoholism. Those targeted by the arson attempt will have to undertake a civil proceedings to claim compensation, as they did not submit an expert opinion to the court regarding the psychological harm caused them.

The arson attack occurred on 14 July 2013 during anti-Romani marches in the South Bohemian metropolis. The perpetrator began but did not complete the act.

Occupants of the building noticed the smell of freshly-spilled fuel on the sidewalk out front and were able to subdue the suspect before he had time to set it alight. The court believed the testimony of eyewitnesses who said they saw the defendant in the act of attempting to set fire to their home.

The crime was not, however, considered by the court to have been racially motivated. The defendant was said to have "merely" been bothered by the behavior of some of the building's residents.

The verdict said many occupants of the building gave corroborative testimony that the defendant had been holding a lighter in his hand and had attempted to set it on fire with the words "now I'll light it". He was prevented at that moment by residents who called the police and detained the suspect until law enforcement arrived.

The court also referred to the fact that an expert from the Fire and Rescue Service said that the particular fuel used could not actually have been set on fire with a lighter or any other ignition source. Had the arsonist used gasoline, that would have been a different matter, and the use of gasoline had been his original intention.  

Václav Šnorek, a court expert on psychiatry, testified that while the defendant is otherwise psychologically healthy, at the time of the crime he was suffering from a mental disorder in the form of acutely strong alcohol intoxication. It cannot be ruled out, due to the recidivism of the defendant, that he might find himself in such a state in the future and would be "capable of anything" while drunk. 

In his testimony, the defendant admitted to the court that he knew of the possible results of his frequent alcoholic intoxication. He said he had never attempted total abstinence.

The defendant also said he was always in a state of complete sanity whenever he decided to have another drink. The court has now ordered him to undergo treatment for alcoholism.

In his closing statement, District State Prosecutor Josef Richtr said the main motive for the crime had been drunkenness and the aim of the crime had been to set fire to the building in which several Romani families live. He also pointed out that the defendant had not acted in the heat of passion. 

The defendant first walked to a nearby gas station, where he borrowed a canister. An employee confirmed to the court that the defendant had originally intended to buy gasoline but had helped himself to diesel by mistake.

The defendant then walked to the Romani families' building, where he poured the fuel on the wall of the front part of the building and into the basement windows. The prosecutor sought prison time without the possibility of parole toward the lower end of the sentencing range for this felony, which is three to five years.

The attorney-in-fact for those targeted by the attack, Markus Pape, said it had been proven to the court that the defendant committed the crime of which he was accused and that he bears responsibility for the harm caused by his actions. Pape believes that harm was caused at the moment when those targeted by the attack realized that someone wanted to hurt them merely because of their affiliation with a particular ethnic group.

Pape went on to say that it is not always possible to precisely assess what kind of financial restitution should be paid for non-pecuniary damages. According to the Criminal Code, however, an aggrieved party is entitled to propose that a court require a defendant to pay compensation for damages caused, including for non-material harms.

Witnesses confirmed that children living in the building are still experiencing anxiety to this day whenever they have to cross that street, that they have trouble falling asleep and awaken during the night, that in their personal lives they feel someone considers them inferior because of their difference, and that this difference is why that man attempted to set their home on fire. "This brand upon their souls is invisible, but the damage caused has been proven to the court," Pape said in his arguments.

Pape believes that "those who were harmed are not proposing they be compensated for the sake of their own enrichment. That is why, should their claims be recognized, their proposal does not specify a time limit by which the defendant should recompense them for the damages incurred."

Those targeted by the attack have left it up to the defendant to decide when and to what extent he might undertake such a gesture of his own free will. However, they did insist that the court recognize their entitlement to compensation.

When the Romani families filed their proposal for compensation, their aim first and foremost was and is to deter the defendant and others from committing similar deeds against them or anyone else. "Both the accused and the public should be informed that such a crime is impermissible and that it causes damage that must be remedied," Pape said.

The eight people harmed proposed that the court require the defendant to pay them each CZK 100 000. The defendant's attorney rejected the claim that his client's intention to set the building alight had been proven. 

The defense said the man's actions had been a "simple cry of protest" against the fact that "something is wrong in that building". In his view, his actions should have been classified at the most as disturbing the peace or making dangerous threats. 

The completion of the crime of felony intimidation of which the defendant, a warehouse worker, was charged, could never have taken place because he used diesel instead of gasoline. The defense therefore requested his acquittal.

The defense also rejected the claim for financial compensation from those harmed by the incident, arguing they had not sufficiently proven what damage had been caused to them. He appealed the verdict on the spot.  

redakce, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Tags:  

České Budějovice, Soud, arson attack, Hate violence



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