Czech court commissions evidence review in response to convicted neo-Nazi murderer's request for retrial
On 22 April, the Regional Court in Hradec Králové did not reach a decision on a motion filed by Vlastimil Pechanec to reopen the proceedings in the case of the racially motivated murder of a Romani man, Otto Absolon, at a discotheque in the Czech town of Svitavy in 2001. The court postponed the proceedings until it has received the results of its newly-commissioned expert evaluation of whether there is evidence on the murder weapon.
Pechanec was convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 17 years in prison, from which he was conditionally released last June. The court has placed him on probation for six years.
When he was released, Pechanec repeated his claim of innocence. Whether there is new evidence in the case will be determined by a forensic biology and genetics expert.
Presiding Judge Luboš Sovák said the court would involve an expert institute in producing a new evaluation of the murder weapon. The judge considers the institute more qualified than the expert witness proposed for the job by Pechanec.
On 22 April Pechanec said the court was doing its best not to let the expert of his choice view his file to order to "objectively" review the DNA analysis of the evidence on the knife. "We are concerned that they will destroy any evidence," he said.
Robert Cholenský, who represents Pechanec, told the press that the court's course of action surprised him and said he will keep trying to secure access to the murder weapon by the expert they have proposed to the court. "It's a bit of a strange approach, which I consider rather obstructive and somewhat tendentious. I don't understand why they should prevent our experts from testing the knife," he said.
According to the attorney, the criminal justice authorities previously found no evidence on the knife. "None was found that would either disfavor or favor my client, and we are concerned that what might happen is that the knife will be somehow altered so it will be difficult to retrieve any samples from it," he said.
State Prosecutor Lenka Faltusová told the press that because the proceedings has not yet been reopened, it is not possible to permit the defendant's experts to inspect evidence such as the knife. "It's not for me to evaluate the court's decision, the court ruled that it will choose the institution and submit the knife to it for testing," she said.
Prior to the murder, Pechanec had been twice convicted of rioting and grievous bodily harm and had been known to police since his youth. He first stabbed someone at the age of 17, and even at that time his choice of a victim - a Romani youth - corresponded with his inclinations toward the racist skinhead movement.
Before that first stabbing he participated in various street brawls, racist marches, neo-Nazi demonstrations and attacks on the dwellings of Romani families. On 21 July 2001, Pechanec and his friends Leoš Řezník, Robert Kopecký, Robert Homoláč and the girlfriend of one of them refused to let Otto Absolon, a Romani man, and his friends into a discotheque in Svitavy.
The incident began with Pechanec and his friends racially abusing Absolon and ended with two stab wounds to the Romani man's abdomen. He died in hospital the next day.
At the time, police let Pechanec and his group leave the crime scene and failed to secure the necessary evidence; suspicions then arose that their lax approach might have been caused by the fact that Řezník is related to one of the officers who intervened at the scene. In March 2003, the High Court in Prague gave Pechanec an extraordinary sentence of 17 years in prison for racially motivated murder.
To this day Pechanec claims that he is not the person who stabbed Otto Absolon. Four witnesses to the incident testified that he did.
Absolon's common-law wife had two young children with him at the time of his death. She died of cancer in the autumn of 2002.
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