Czech Republic: Crossbow shooter gets 10 years for manslaughter of Romani man
Jaromír Šebesta (age 39), the crossbow shooter from the Czech town of Chotěbuz, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for the manslaughter of Martin Hospodi. The Regional Court in Ostrava handed the verdict down today.
Šebesta was found guilty of grievous bodily harm resulting in death. The court did not recognize the main element of his defense, which was that the shooting of the crossbow was an unfortunate accident that took place in a situation of self-defense. "As can be seen from the trajectory of the shot, which traveled roughly 12 meters, this could not have been an unfortunate accident," the judge said, quoting from a court expert's evaluation of the evidence.
Not necessary self-defense
"This was not necessary self-defense. It was also not an unfortunate accident. Unfortunately, this was payback. This must be prosecuted according to law by some sort of sanction," presiding Judge Miroslav Mucha wrote in his explanation of the verdict.
Mucha said Šebesta shot his weapon when the men were fleeing the scene and trying get into their car to drive away. "They had no weapons in their hands. Two made it to the car, the third less-agile one did not," said the judge. In his view, Šebesta definitely was not fending off an imminent attack, which is essential for a ruling of necessary self-defense.
Šebesta, however, disagrees. "This seems terribly strict to me. I was afraid, I was agitated," he told journalists after the verdict was announced.
Šebesta also called into question the version of events that the court decided to believe. "It was a bit different than that. I did not intend to harm anyone. I really didn't even see anyone there," he said, adding that he would appeal the verdict.
The presiding judge emphasized that the real estate Šebesta wanted to protect was not fenced off. "This is a former barn, which is really more just the site of a collapsed building that he has taken up residence in. The house number was written in chalk on the door of the gate. There was no sign posted anywhere informing people that the plot of land is private property," Mucha said.
A verdict of murder was also considered but the judge rejected it. In his view, Šebesta is not such an experienced shooter that he could have intentionally aimed at someone's head and hit him.
The presiding judge therefore accepted the legal qualification of the crime proposed by the state prosecutor. "He was aware that shooting someone could cause serious injury. However, he hoped that wouldn't happen," Mucha said.
Šebesta originally faced up to 16 years in prison. The judge has handed down a lighter sentence because he had no prior criminal record. However, the fact that Šebesta never expressed regret made it hard for the court to give him anything less than 10 years.
According to the court proceedings, the entire event played out as follows: On that fateful day, a car with four men in it drove up to the small house. They claim they had come there to gather scrap metal, but Šebesta believes they wanted to break into his home.
"They were in the cellar. They weren't interested in any scrap. They were looking for a way to get inside," the shooter testified. Police, however, found no evidence of any attempted theft and therefore did not charge anyone with trespassing.
The defendant claimed that he fired the crossbow when he was wracked with emotion and that he tripped while moving toward the men, as his shoes weren't even all the way on. "I shot at the car, but I didn't see whether anyone was sitting in it or not. Only one back door was open," Šebesta told the court. When the judge asked where the Romani men were at that time, Šebesta said: "Probably in the car".
Eyewitnesses agreed that the shooter behaved so calmly as to be almost phlegmatic. The Romani people involved insist that Šebesta intended to shoot at them. "He aimed at Martin's head for at least 10 seconds," eyewitness Gabriel Gujda said.
What Šebesta first described to the court in detail was a racist assassination or murder. The judge then warned him that he was not being charged with murder. When asked by the state prosecutor, Šebesta confirmed that if the people he believed were thieves had been "white", he would definitely not have behaved as he did.
Eyewitnesses then all described to the court a case of grievous bodily harm resulting in death. They had no way of knowing that Šebesta had just admitted to the court that he had prepared his attack in cold blood after looking through the window of his home and seeing the Romani men approaching.
The defendant testified that the Romani visitors took nothing. A police dog was also unable to find any trace of them in the cellar.
The defendant described noticing the Romani men drive up when he was still inside his house. He watched them through one window and then another. Then he grabbed his crossbow, pulled back the bow, fitted an arrow and released the safety catch. Thus armed, he went outside.
Šebesta said he shouted at the Romani men to immediately leave his land. At first they did not respond. After he shouted at them again, they started running.
One moment later, Šebesta insists that the firing of his weapon was an unfortunate accident. The arrow struck one of the men in the head.
Šebesta admitted that he saw the shooting victim lying motionless on the ground, still breathing. Even though, unlike the eyewitnesses, he had a mobile phone on him, he did not call an ambulance. Instead, he told the other Romani men to remove the arrow from the victim's head, put him in their car, and drive off.
Šebesta also did not provide the victim any first aid. After several unsuccessful attempts, Gabriel Gujda, the cousin of victim Martin Hospodi, managed to stop a car that was driving past. The driver called an ambulance, which took a rather long time to arrive. Hospodi was then taken by helicopter to the hospital in Ostrava, where he died of his injuries several days later.
When asked by the state prosecutor, Šebesta confirmed that if the people he believed were thieves had been "white", he definitely would not have behaved as he did. He described to the court how he prepared for the attack in cold blood while watching the Romani men through the window of his home.
When the arrow was still sticking out of his victim's head, Šebesta calmly returned to his house for a roll to eat and for another arrow to measure how deep the shot was. "I grabbed the roll to calm down," he told the court.
The Romani eyewitnesses testified that they usually drove around the Karvina district to make some extra money by collecting old iron. They said that they always asked people politely first whether they had anything they wanted to get rid of or sell for a symbolic price. No one had ever complained about them; on the contrary, they claimed that people were often glad for their help in get rid of unnecessary things.
Eyewitness Gujda submitted a clean criminal record to the court. He was once convicted of a misdemeanor back in 1989 at the age of 22, more than 20 years ago.
Ballistics expert Ivo Mučka held up the crossbow that Šebesta shot in the courtroom. Judge Miroslav Mucha asked him whether it was possible to close the safety mechanism on that type of weapon after releasing it, which the expert confirmed was possible. Šebesta was reportedly an experienced shooter and must therefore have known that the weapon's safety catch could have been re-closed before he ran out after the Romani men with the weapon in his hand in order to prevent an accidental firing.
Martin Dokoupil testified to the court about a study by Czech doctors who tested how the bodies of animals respond to being shot with a crossbow. "Those injuries were always fatal," the expert said.
A psychologist described Šebesta as a completely simple person with a personality disorder. Was he capable of thinking through all the possible consequences of his actions? During the trial he gave the impression that no one should be punished for the violent death of the Romani man. This extreme sense of impunity can be explained by the fact that people in his neighborhood signed a petition claiming that in his situation they would have done exactly the same thing.
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