Czech state removes children of Romani arson victim from her care
At the beginning of May the trial continued at the Regional Court in Plzeň in the matter of the allegedly organized group that has been using the names "Blood and Honour" or "Combat 18". Some members of the group, according to the indictment, are said to have carried out an arson attack on a residential hotel occupied mostly by Romani families in the West Bohemian town of Aš in 2012.
Defendants Tomáš K. and Michal P. face the possibility of extraordinary sentencing for 18 counts of racially motivated attempted murder. One of the former residents of the facility, Romana M., has now testified in court for the first time.
On the night of 26 February 2012, she was a direct witness to the attack and testified that she had gone out to look for her 16-year-old daughter that night. As she was returning home she saw two masked men standing in front of the building lighting Molotov cocktails which they then threw at the building's main entrance and through the windows of two of its apartments.
After the attack, Romana M.'s children were taken away by the state and placed in a children's home, and she admitted to the court that she then began to commit crimes. Today she is serving a sentence for those offenses.
Only exit from the residential hotel set on fire
The Mf DNES daily quotes Romana M.'s testimony as follows: "They were standing one and a half or two meters away from the building and I was about three meters away from them. When they lit the Molotov cocktails, one of them saw me, but he kept on going. They threw their first bottle, which was glass, through the window of the ground-floor apartment. Then they threw a plastic bottle on fire at the locked grille in front of the entrance doors. The carpet in the corridor immediately caught fire. There was another glass bottle that they didn't light, but just threw into another window."
Romana M. also said the assailants did not seem to her to be drunk, as they later claimed when police interrogated them. "They didn't run away, they just walked away normally," she testified.
Occupants of the building first put out the blaze in the corridor so people could exit the building. They then put out the fire in the window of one of the rooms.
The petite woman told the court that the arson attack turned her life upside down. Shortly after it happened and her two-year-old daughter inhaled smoke during the blaze, police brought Romana M. to the station to be deposed, as she was the only person who could provide a description of the attackers.
While she was at the station, her daughter, who was back at home, began to choke; according to medical records, she suffered febrile convulsions. A neighbor revived the little girl and an ambulance took her to hospital.
When the girl was released several days later she was not returned to her home, but to an infants' institution near Plzeň. On the basis of a preliminary injunction, the family's other three children were then removed from their care and placed in a children's home, from which they were supposed to be returned once the family had resolved their housing situation, but this has not yet happened.
The parents then moved away from the residential hotel. Romana M. had been pregnant at the time of the attack, and after she gave birth, social workers took her newborn infant into state care as well; police have so far never investigated the causal correlation between the arson attack and Romana M.'s daughter falling ill.
Attorney for the victims not permitted to consult with his clients
The attorney for the victims attempted more than once to arrange for the children to be examined by an expert witness for signs of any psychological consequences to their health as a result of the arson attack, but the management of the children's home always refused to allow either the attorney representing the children or the expert to access them. The attorney then filed a proposal in April for the court to order they be examined by an expert; as of 13 May, that motion had yet to be ruled on.
Defendant Michal P. had told the court back in February that he never intended to harm anyone. "I had never thrown a Molotov cocktail before in my life. I didn't know what would happen when I threw it into the building," he claimed when interrogated by police.
Defendant Tomáš K. agreed, several months after the attack, to compensate the family who had been living in the room where the window was broken for the damage he caused. In May a Probation and Mediation Services staffer who facilitated the agreement, which was proposed by the defendant, confirmed this to the court.
That staffer also met with Romana M., from whom she learned of the medical consequences of the attack for her two-year-old daughter. However, the mediator did not broker any arrangements for financial compensation for that harm to be made by the defendant.
Police had these suspects under surveillance before this attack
The court also reviewed video recordings of a 2011 transaction between Jan B., the alleged head of the organized group, and an officer working undercover (i.e., video taken before the attack was committed). In the footage, Jan B., who is the main defendant in the arson case, brings the undercover police officer t-shirts with Nazi propaganda on them, receives money from him in exchange, and then holds a long conversation with him about the neo-Nazi scene.
In that video footage Jan B. claims to have already killed five people and says the violent fight against Romani people must be escalated. His defense attorney objected that it frequently is not easy to understand what the undercover officer says in the recording because his voice has been intentionally distorted so that no one can identify him.
Jan B.'s defense attorney argued that it cannot be ruled out that the officer intentionally provoked Jan B. to make those statements and that the court should not recognize the recording as evidence. An acquaintance and colleague of defendant Tomáš K. then testifed as a witness for the defense.
According to this witness, Tomáš K. has changed for the better in recent years. He is making his own decisions and not waiting for someone else to do make them for him.
The character witness said Tomáš K. previously had three Romani coworkers with whom he always got along well. This witness confirmed that he knew the building targeted by the arson attack, that "life was hard" there, and described it as a "residential hotel for Romani citizens."
When he testified to the court in February, Tomáš K. claimed to be angry at Romani people because a local Romani man had "taken" his wife from him. In May the character witness for him claimed to have known him for a long time, said he had never heard any such thing, and testified that Tomáš K.'s former wife is reportedly not going out with a Romani man.
The trial will resume this week. Expert witnesses from the fields of chemistry and extremism are scheduled to testify.
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