Czech court increases sentences for Bedřiška arson on appeal
The High Court in Olomouc has handed down stricter sentences than the first instance court did in the case of an arson attack on a Roma home in the Bedřiška settlement of Ostrava. Instead of suspended sentences, the youth whom the court found responsible for the attack will serve four years in prison and his mother 7.5 years. The High Court judged the youngster's crime to be attempted reckless endangerment, while his mother was convicted of abetting reckless endangerment.
The son was originally sentenced by the Regional Court in Ostrava to a three-year suspended sentence for attempted reckless endangerment, while his mother was originally given an 18-month suspended sentence for not preventing her son from throwing the Molotov cocktail. No one was injured during the attack, as the fire was put out before the bottle could explode.
"We handed down harsher sentences at the suggestion of the state prosecutor. The defendants' indirect intentions at the very least meet the criteria for the crime of reckless endangerment with the intention of causing the death of more than one person," said presiding Judge Petr Angyalossy. In his view, even though the state prosecutor had originally requested the defendants be punished for attempted murder, the crime of reckless endangerment is appropriate in this case.
The mother originally faced between 12 and 20 years in prison, but the judges handed down an extraordinary sentence of less than the minimum time required. "A 12-year sentence would be too harsh. It was not proven that she actively participated in the crime. She 'merely' abetted it. A punishment of 7.5 years, in our view, is proportionate and sufficient," the presiding judge said.
Her teenaged son faced between one and five years in prison, which could have been increased to five to 10 years had the judges opted for extraordinary sentencing. "Luckily, the consequences of the attack were not so serious as to constitute vandalism or grievous bodily harm. Given that the assailant was dependent on his mother and doing his best to please her, the more basic sentencing was considered," Angyalossy said.
The mother was originally convicted of not preventing a crime. Today the appeals court made it clear that she was the person who initiated the attack. "The teenager is not so intellectually equipped as to have carried out the entire crime on his own. It is clear he had to have some inspiration for how to do it. The female defendant was the only person who could have given him that impulse and set him on the path of committing the crime as he did. She gave him instructions on how to do it," the presiding judge believes.
The attorney-in-fact for the victimized family was satisfied with the verdict. "I am glad. Throwing a bottle into someone's apartment in order to frighten or kill them is unreal. More of these attacks should be punished," said Ladislav Baláž.
The victimized family also welcomed the increased sentences. "I am glad, it's justice. Now I will breathe and sleep easier. If our girl hadn't been in that room, the house would have burned down. We are glad to be alive. I have never done anything to anyone, and I don't know why they did this to us," said victim Ludmila Podraná, adding that she had had no contact with the defendants since they had returned home from being in custody after the first-instance verdict. "We don't speak," she said.
Attorneys for the defendants are considering whether to appeal once more. "Of course I am not satisfied with the verdict. The punishment is very harsh and difficult for me to accept, and I am considering other options," Mário Hanák, attorney for the mother, told journalists. The attorney for the teenager is of the same opinion.
The prosecution charged that the youth attacked the home of his Roma neighbors, allegedly due to an ongoing dispute, last March. He poured ether into a bottle and used a piece of fabric as a wick. At around 4 AM, wearing a scarf across his face, he threw the Molotov cocktail through the window of his neighbors' home. He then returned home and set fire to the clothes he had been wearing. He and his mother then watched through the window to see whether the house was on fire. When nothing happened, they went to bed.
At the time the wooden duplex was attacked, 11 people were sleeping there, five of them children. By pure coincidence, the bottle landed in a room where a 14-year-old girl was sleeping. The sound of breaking glass woke her up and she managed to put out the burning wick in time. The fire did not spread into any other rooms in the wooden building. According to fire prevention experts, however, the house could have burned up in an instant. The court drew attention to the fact that both defendants were well aware of how many people were in the house, including many minor children, that given the hour of the night everyone was likely to have been sound asleep, and that the house could have caught fire.
Next week the High Court in Olomouc will hear the case of a similar arson attack which had far more tragic results. Roughly one year prior to the Bedřiška attack, four neo-Nazis threw a Molotov cocktail into the home of a Roma family in Vítkov. Three people were seriously injured in the blaze, the most seriously an infant named Natálie, who was not quite two years old at the time. The child suffered burns over 80 % of her body, lost three fingers, and will deal with other repercussions of her injuries for the rest of her life.
The Regional Court in Ostrava handed down sentences of between 20 and 22 years in prison for multiple counts of racially motivated attempted murder. All four defendants have appealed.
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