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Pavel Uhl: High Court verdict in Vítkov arsons expected tomorrow

Olomouc, 17.3.2011 19:39, (ROMEA)

The four men charged with committing the 2009 Vítkov arson attack gave testimony in an appeals proceeding today at the High Court in Olomouc. Last October, David Vaculík, Jaromír Lukeš, and Ivo Müller were sentenced to 22 years in prison without the possibility of parole, while Václav Cojocaru was sentenced to 20 years in prison without the possibility of parole. They all immediately appealed. Today was the first day the Olomouc panel of judges convened to decide their case. Pavel Uhl, the attorney for the minor victims of the arson attack, was in the courtroom. Romea.cz asked him several questions.

How did it go with the first day of appeals in the Vítkov arson case at the High Court in Olomouc?

First the court reviewed the case file, then it had all four defendants present their appeals. The state attorney responded to the appeals and very clearly rebutted one argument by the defense after another. Then we, the attorneys for the victims, had the opportunity to respond. The defense then proposed new evidence, a single newspaper article from the regional edition of the daily MF Dnes, in which one of the investigating police officers quoted defendant Vaculík as having reportedly said, "This is my struggle." Vaculík has refused to testify at all during the trial. What is problematic is that the article is not part of the case file. Then both sides argued for what they believe the verdict should be. The state attorney and the victims propose rejecting the appeals, while the defense proposes overturning the previous verdicts and returning the cases to the Regional Court. The attorneys for Lukeš and Cojocaru proposed the alternative of the appeals court itself handing down milder sentences to those particular defendants.

The defendants are asking the entire case be returned to the Regional Court in Ostrava. Have their attorneys come up with some new defense tactics?

There was no reversal in defense tactics. They continue to claim they did not want to kill anyone and that even if they did, no one can prove it.

The defendants have claimed since the start of the trial that they did not know the family was at home at the time of the attack, even though clear testimony to the contrary was given to the court in Ostrava. Might they convince the judges in Olomouc?

Theoretically they might, but I have no idea whether that is likely. They did not convince me. Unfortunately, I am not able to predict what the court's verdict will be.

Defendant Vaculík, who has taken advantage of the option of not testifying to the court, has claimed through his attorney that he was not even at the scene of the crime when it was committed. Is he continuing to stick to that strategy?

Not completely. His attorney says Vaculík is not claiming he was not there, rather, he is claiming that no one has proven he was there. From the standpoint of the existence of the presumption of innocence, of course, that's the same thing. There has been no change there.

What do you think the chances are that the verdict will be announced tomorrow?

It won't necessarily be a verdict as to guilt and punishment, it could be a resolution which would result in procedural ramifications and could return the case to the Regional Court once more, which would then issue a verdict. However, I believe there is a 60 % chance of some decision being announced tomorrow.

Gwendolyn Albert, vot, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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