VIDEO: First-instance verdict in the Chomutov shooting case - 12.5 years
The Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem has sentenced 37-year-old Petr Benda to 12.5 years in prison for shooting dead a Romani man behind the wheel of a van last spring at a housing estate in Chomutov. Benda faced as many as 20 years in prison for firing 13 bullets at the van driven by Radek Š.
The verdict has not yet taken effect and the defendant has appealed. The prosecutor will not be appealing.
The court has convicted Benda of premeditated murder and property damage. In addition to murder, the court also punished him for shooting at the van itself.
According to State Prosecutor Vladimír Jan, during the hearing it was unequivocally proven that the defendant had committed the behavior of which he was accused. Judge Jiří Bednář agreed with that assessment.
"The deed happened exactly as described in the indictment," the judge said when announcing his verdict. The prosecutor rejected the notion that the shooter had acted under a circumstance of extreme distress or one of necessary self-defense.
"The defendant did not exactly know what kind of attack had happened, or of what intensity it had been, and he did not try to find out. His allegation that there was no time because everything was happening very fast can neither defend nor excuse his headlong rush to his insufficiently-grounded decision to use his firearm in the way that he chose," the prosecutor said during his closing arguments on Monday, adding that in his opinion the behavior of the defendant was not racially motivated.
Presiding Judge Bednář said it was not possible to assess the shooting as having happened in a circumstance of extreme danger or necessary self-defense. According to the court, Benda fired his weapon at a moment when the automobile posed no danger to anybody and was not heading in anybody's direction.
"That means he used his weapon without grounds or justification and the way in which he used it must have been guided by a decision to kill somebody. If he fired the entire contents of his pistol directly at the driver's door while seeing the driver there, then it had to have been clear to him that the bullets from the 9 millimeter gun would pass through the door without any problem whatsoever and were capable of killing the driver," the judge said.
The court has banned Benda from possessing any weapons for 10 years, the maximum amount of time possible. The prosecutor proposed awarding the family members of the victim compensation in the amount proposed by their attorney, a total amount of roughly CZK 5 million [EUR 200 000].
The victim's parents and common-law wife are each seeking one million crowns [EUR 40 000] while his siblings are seeking CZK 500 000 [EUR 20 000] each. The court, however, has awarded the family of the victim just CZK 2.5 million [EUR 100 000] total.
Benda has also been ordered to pay the funeral costs for the victim and for the treatment of the family's dog, who was also shot. The court has instructed the family to attempt to seek the rest of the award through a civil lawsuit.
"The family's claims were awarded just in part. The court justified this by saying the overall amount sought was too high for the perpetrator to pay off over the course of the rest of his life. From our perspective that is comprehensible, but we have nevertheless asked for time to consider whether to appeal," Klára Kalibová, the attorney for the bereaved family members, told news server Romea.cz.
The verdict has yet to take effect, as Benda appealed on the spot. "I believe that if somebody is using an automobile as a weapon against people, it is the right of the citizens to defend themselves against such an assailant," Benda's attorney Jiří Pašek said.
State Prosecutor Vladimír Jan has foregone his right of appeal. "The court ruled absolutely in accordance with my motion, which is why I will not be appealing," he said.
The case is now heading to the High Court in Prague. The incident happened on 27 May 2017 at around 3 AM on Jirkovská Street near a block of prefabricated apartment buildings.
According to the court, the shooter decided to stop the van after his mother told him it was driving past and crashing into other automobiles and people, so he ran outside and fired at least 13 times at the van, which at the time was traveling at about seven or eight kilometers per hour and posed no danger to anybody. The shooter had possessed his weapon legally for many years.
His bullets struck the Romani man behind the wheel many times, including in the back and chest. The victim died as a consequence of his severe injuries.
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