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Czech Supreme Court upholds sentencing in Vítkov arson case

Brno, 28.12.2011 12:09, (ROMEA)
The perpetrators of the Vítkov arson in court.

The sentences handed down to the perpetrators of a 2009 arson attack on the home of a Romani family in Vítkov (Opava district) will definitively take effect. Petr Knötig, spokesperson for the Czech Supreme Court, told the Czech Press Agency today that the court has rejected the appeals filed by all four perpetrators. The men were previously sentenced by courts in Ostrava and Olomouc to either 20 or 22 years in prison.

During the racially motivated attack, an infant who was not quite two years old suffered serious burns. Her health will be affected for the rest of her life as a result.

The attack was committed by four assailants. David Vaculík and Jaromír Lukeš are to serve 22 years in prison, while Václav Cojocaru and Ivo Müller received 20-year sentences. All were convicted of multiple counts of racially motivated attempted murder and property damage.

All four perpetrators appealed their sentences. It is not yet known why the Czech Supreme Court rejected their appeals, as the appellants have not yet received the court's written justification. Theoretically the four can still appeal to the Czech Constitutional Court. However, that court usually refuses to hear cases involving violent criminal activity.

Prosecutors charged the four men with attacking a house occupied by a Romani family during the early morning hours of 19 April 2009. The perpetrators threw Molotov cocktails through the windows. The house caught fire immediately and three people were injured. The most serious injuries were sustained by the infant Natálie, who was not even two years old at the time. She was burned over 80 % of her body and has since lost three fingers. She survived thanks to sheer luck and top-quality medical care.

During the appeals proceeding this past March, the High Court in Olomouc labeled the extraordinarily long sentences as tough but not disproportionate. "There is a high degree of danger to society in this case. The most serious aspect is the motive for this crime, which was the victims' membership in an ethnic minority. The clear signal must be sent that any criminal activity motivated by victims' difference will be thoroughly prosecuted," Milan Kaderka, the presiding judge, said at the time.

The four neo-Nazis sought to have the legal classification of the crime changed from murder to reckless endangerment. They claimed they did not know the house was occupied, that they had not traveled to Vítkov to commit murder, and that their intent to commit murder had not been proven. However, the courts came to the conclusion that this was a case of attempted murder involving indirect intent.

The assailants used three bottles containing highly flammable material. The fire started in three places. The courts ruled that it was evident the perpetrators were aware that any occupants inside the house could die as a result of their attack.

ČTK, Gwendolyn Albert, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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