Czech court conditionally releases racist murderer of Romani man
A Czech court has released Vlastimil Pechanec, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2003 for racially motivated murder in the town of Svitavy. Pechanec is leaving prison in Pardubice after serving almost 13 years of his sentence.
The release is conditional. "The court was able to accede to his request because Mr Pechanec met all of the legal conditions. He will be on probation for six years," Judge Karel Gobernac said.
Pechanec was a 22-year-old racist skinhead when he stabbed a local 30-year-old Romani man, Mr Otto Absolon, on 21 July 2001 in a discotheque after verbally assaulting him. Judge Gobernac said the court took into consideration the fact that Pechanec has served more than two-thirds of his sentence.
His above-standard behavior in prison has been documented, where he has received 35 rewards for good discipline and has never been punished. He worked in the Pardubice prison in the clothing workshop, where he got very good evaluations.
Pechanec has a promise of employment from the Svitap company in Svitavy and has maintained good relations with his brother and his mother. During his sentence he spent time in prisons in Karviná, Mírov, Pardubice, Plzeň and Valdice.
Reportedly Pechanec has also been paying compensation to the Prison Service. After his release he is supposed to live with relatives and his family wants to move into a larger apartment.
The state prosecutor recommended Pechanec for conditional release. The judge said he must lead a proper life while on probation, which generally means he must not intentionally commit any more crimes - a minor offense such as a parking ticket would not require his return to prison.
On the day he was murdered, Mr Absolon, his common-law wife Romana, and several of their acquaintances decided to go to the Zatáčka discotheque in Svitavy just before midnight. As he was paying to enter, he heard a man standing behind him say: "What are you black mugs doing here!?"
Vlastimil Pechanec, whose reputation was well known, was standing in the foyer with his skinhead buddies Leoš Řezník, Robert Kopecký, Robert Homoláč, and a woman who was a girlfriend of one of them. All of them had been heavily drinking beer and Fernet.
After a brief exchange of opinions, a rapid shoving match ensued between Mr Absolon and the skinheads. Then Mr Absolon staggered outside, his belly sporting two stab wounds, and fell at his friends' feet.
"[The police] didn't even lean down toward Otto, they just shone a light on his eyes and asked who did it. We said Pechanec," an eyewitness who has kept her name secret because she fears for her life told a reporter with the weekly RESPEKT.
Eyewitnesses at the scene said the police officers who were the first to arrive on the scene behaved as if they were just investigating a pub brawl. No one attempted to find the murder weapon and Pechanec was allowed to leave the scene in peace.
Police never compiled a protocol of the persons present in the discotheque at the time and never interrogated Pechanec's buddies. The situation changed at 9:25 AM on 21 July 2001, when Mr Absolon passed away in the hospital.
One hour before Mr Absolon finally succumbed to his wounds, Vlastimil Pechanec was arrested. The jeans he had been wearing, on which traces of blood might have been found, had already been freshly washed.
During the night, a rainstorm washed away any blood or fingerprints from the murder weapon, which happened to be found later by a barmaid. The laxity of the police, according to locals, was primarily caused by the fact that one of Pechanec's buddies, Leoš Řezník, is a relative of one of the officers who intervened at the scene, creating fertile grounds for speculation.
Eyewitness testimonies, therefore, were the only way the murderer could be identified. In 2003, the Superior Court in Prague sentenced Pechanec to 17 years in prison; by that time Mr Absolon's common-law wife, with whom he had two young children at the time of his death, had succumbed to cancer in the autumn of 2002.
The length of the sentence was justified by the fact that the crime was racially motivated and by expert witnesses who testified that Pechanec would be difficult to rehabilitate. In August 1997 Pechanec had stabbed another Romani man, Ladislav Pešta, in the right side of his chest in front of the Svitavy post office.
Doctors said that particular victim's survival was nothing less than miraculous. Pechanec spent two years in prison without the possibility of parole as a result.
One year before he assaulted Pešta, at the age of 17, Pechanec added a year-long suspended sentence to his criminal record for shouting racist slogans and beating up customers at a discotheque in the Brno area together with others. He received yet another suspended sentence for organizing a racist march in Svitavy, throwing rocks into Romani-occupied homes and demolishing the fixtures in one of them.
For several years now, Pechanec's supporters have held an assembly and march calling for his trial to be reopened and for him to be released; this year's march has been announced for 19 July. Czech MP Tomio Okamura, chair of the Úsvit (Dawn of Direct Democracy) movement, has called Pechanec's trial manipulated and visited him in prison this past January.
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