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Czech court sentences attacker to six years for six crimes against Romani family

14.4.2015 20:36
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

At the beginning of April a verdict was handed down in the case of a violent racially-motivated attack against a Romani family whose identities we are not reporting at their request. The defendant has been unconditionally sentenced by the first-instance Regional Court to six years in maximum-security prison and his driver's license has been suspended for a year and a half.  

The convicted man will also have to pay his victims' health insurer almost CZK 100 000 (EUR 3 700) for medical costs and financial compensation to the female victim totaling approximately CZK 150 000 for causing her serious "non-material" and psychological harm. The compensation sought by the primary victim, who was male, has been referred to a civil proceedings.

The primary victim was injured so severely that he has partially lost his memory and remembers nothing of the attack to this day. He was unable to testify in court.

The prosecutor, the defendant, and the victims are all deciding whether to appeal aspects of the verdict. As the attorney for the main victim told news server, he will definitely appeal on the matter of unrecognized compensation.

The case will, therefore, go to a second-instance court. The defendant was found guilty by the first-instance court of a total of six felony offenses - two counts of racially-motivated grievous bodily harm, trespassing, property destruction, making threats under the influence of addictive substances, and the unlicensed production of drugs in an amount that is for more than personal use.

The indictment originally qualified the perpetrator's assault on the 40-year-old woman not as grievous bodily harm but just as an instance of violence against an individual member of a particular group. However, during the trial the prosecutor introduced evidence from an expert witness to prove that the woman is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which she is receiving treatment to this day.  

Balanced evaluation of all circumstances

Is this verdict mild or strict? That depends on your perspective.

The family of the victimized man is horrified by it. Their response is based on the fact that the assailant caused the man life-threatening injuries.

The defendant has spent one year in custody and, after serving two more years, he will be able to request conditional release for good behavior. Even the financial compensation awarded seems absurdly low to the victimized family, given the fact that the main victim has been dependent on his wife ever since the attack for 24-hour care, as he can neither walk nor wash himself on his own.  

When the verdict was announced, the defendant just shook his head. In his closing remarks, he once again spoke about Romani people in a generalizing way, saying that if "they all" didn't steal, then he would never have engaged in such a brutal excess, and also saying that "they" cannot be believed.

According to the testimony of tradesmen who happened to be waiting that fateful morning outside of a building across the street, the defendant drove up in his car, parked directly in front of the gate to the family's home, and used his fists to punch through the casement window of the children's room. He then forced his way into the home, shouting "You black mugs, I'll kill you", first attacking a middle-aged woman by striking her face.  

When the pereptrator noticed that the woman's father, whom he recognized on sight, was also in the house, he told the woman to stay put and began to attack him. The assailant struck him with a pickaxe handle and also banged his head against the floor more than once.  

In the meantime, the man's granddaughter jumped out of the window in the children's room, followed by her mother and her young children, in order to call for help. Once the victimized man lying on the floor was no longer moving, the perpetrator left the house and walked back to his own home, where he changed his clothes.

He then returned to the scene of the crime, where he pretended to have nothing to do with the entire matter. He was ultimately arrested by the police patrol that had been called by the superintendent of a neighboring building.

What led the judge to hand down this six-year sentence? First he mentioned mitigating circumstances:  While the defendant had not exactly led a proper life, he had no previous criminal convictions, just a previous suspension of his driver's license for driving under the influence of methamphetamine.

The defendant also expressed regret for his actions, mainly by providing partial financial compensation to the victims by the beginning of the trial in an amount that the judge, who was elderly, said he had "never seen before". With his own family's help, the defendant had already paid the victims a total of CZK 200 000 while he was still in custody.

An expert witness said the defendant was not a drug addict and did not propose that the court order treatment, but the defendant himself expressed an interest in treatment. In the past he had saved his sister's life by donating an organ to her, risking his own life in the process.

Moreover, the defendant got lucky because the court never determined where the pickaxe handle that he used to attack the grandfather came from. It was never proven whether he brought it with him to the victims' property or whether he found it inside their house, and for that reason, the court did not qualify his crime as attempted murder.

Expert witness: Attack has exacerbated the victim's "Holocaust syndrome"

On the other hand, the defendant's situation was aggravated by the fact that he had committed several crimes at once. His attack was a significant violation of the victims in their own home.

The judge emphasized this fact by asking the rhetorical question:  "Where else should a person feel safe if not in his own home?" During her efforts to escape the attacker, the victim's granddaughter, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, had to jump out of a window, as did her injured mother and the young children.  

The perpetrator, according to the judge, caused the victimized man numerous injuries including a broken jaw and nose and intracranial bleeding with evidently permanent consequences. The judge also found that one of the female victims was still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a consequence of the attack, the victimized family moved into a residential hotel. They do not want to return to their home because it reminds them of the worst moments they have ever experienced in their entire lives.

Thanks to the material evidence, such as the blood on the perpetrator's clothing and on the pickaxe handle, as well as DNA testing, the evidentiary situation for the court was clear. The main nut to crack during the trial was the question of whether the attack had been racially motivated, because the defendant did not have a history of extremism.  

The judge ultimately made his decision on the basis of the victims' claims regarding the racist statements they heard the perpetrator shout during his assault. The defendant was unable to refute those claims because he insisted that he has no memory of perpetrating the attack.

The court also acknowledged the perpetrator's testimony that his own home had been robbed more than once and that when it happened again, he recalled that he had once seen a suspicious person on the scaffolding of the neighboring building who had then run into the Romani family's home. The prosecution pointed out to the court that the defendant had testified that he didn't know whether that person lived in the home or was a relative of the family.  

Without any evidence, the defendant just made the simple-minded deduction that the Romani family might have something to do with the robbery of his home. However, no such facts were ever proven in court.

The court also heard that relatives of the victimized family on the father's side had been imprisoned at the concentration camp at Lety by Písek. Most of their relatives were murdered there or later at Auschwitz.  

A psychiatric expert informed the court that prior to the attack, the main victim had already suffered from "Holocaust syndrome". The assault on him was said to have exacerbated this condition. 

redakce, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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