MINELRES: ERRC: Hungarian Appellate Court Upholds Release of Wrongly Convicted Romani Men

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Tue May 9 07:38:43 2006


Original sender: European Roma Rights Centre <errc@errc.org>


ERRC Secures Release after Wrongful Imprisonment for Murder

Two Men in Custody for Close to Six Years

Budapest, 3 May 2006:   In a decision communicated last week, an
appellate court in Debrecen, Hungary, has upheld a July 2005 decision by
the Hajdu-Bihar County Court to acquit at retrial two Romani men
previously found guilty of murder. Reaffirming that the conviction of
Mr. Ferenc Burka Jr. and Mr. Ferenc Burka Sr. had been unlawful, the
Debrecen Appellate Court issued a binding and final decision on 24
April, confirming their release from jail. The two men had been
sentenced to serve 15 and 13 years imprisonment respectively in 1999,
following convictions on very weak evidence. They had spent close to six
years in custody.

The facts of the case are as follows:

On 4 March 1999, a man was robbed and murdered in the village of 
Ujszentmargita in northeastern Hungary. On the same evening and sometime
before the incident, Mr. Ferenc Burka Jr. (28) and his father, Mr.
Ferenc Burka Sr. (48), both Romani men, had a few drinks together in a
local
bar. On the following day, the two men were arrested and an
investigation was initiated against them. Two witness testimonies were
considered sufficient evidence for an indictment. The first was the
bartender's witness statement, according to which the two Romani men had
seen a large amount of money in the possession of the victim on that
day. The second was the testimony of a villager who reportedly saw the
two Romani men walking in the direction of the victims house, where the
murder took place.

The investigation produced solely circumstantial evidence. An officer of
the local police department even stated during one of the court
hearings: "I immediately thought of Ferenc Burka. It was intuition. I
thought he was probably the perpetrator." During proceedings, the
prosecutor stated that Ferenc Burka Jr. had burnt and buried the boots
of his father, "a common perpetratoral behaviour of Gypsies when they
commit a murder and robbery".  However, no buried boots destroyed or
otherwise - were actually found. The prosecutor interpreted the fact
that only one pair of boots was found in the Burkashouse as evidence of
the destruction of a purported second pair of boots. Also cited by the
prosecutor as suspiciouswas the fact that, at the time of arrest, the
Burkas had washed their clothes and hung them out to dry. Despite the
fact that the police found a red hair in the victims hand, and although
both of the Burkas have black hair, these facts were disregarded during
the investigation.

On 2 April 2002, having been found guilty, the two men were sentenced to
15 and 13 years imprisonment respectively. They had by that time already
been in custody since 16 March 1999.

After lawyers engaged by the ERRC Dr. Laszlo Zeke and Dr. Peter
Margitics appealed the decision, the case went to the Szeged Judicial
Court in September 2003.  This tribunal quashed the lower court judgment
and ordered a retrial. In March 2005, in the repeated procedure, the two
men were ordered released from custody but placed under house arrest.
They had, by that time, already spent exactly 2100 days in penitentiary.
In the meantime, other witnesses came forward who testified to their
innocence. Witnesses also identified another man, Mr. L.T., who
reportedly stated that he was the actual perpetrator, and that he had
carried out the deed because he thought the victim had stolen some
construction tools from him.

On 9 July 2005, the Hajdu-Bihar County Court acquitted the two men. The
prosecutor however appealed the decision, and the case was subsequently
referred to the Debrecen Appellate Court. On 24 April, the Debrecen
Court upheld the County Courts ruling. The lawyers plan to pursue claims
for non-pecuniary damages.

Dr. Laszlo Zeke represented Mr. Ferenc Burka Sr. and Dr. Péter
Margitics, supported by the ERRC, represented Mr. Ferenc Burka Jr. For
more information on the case, please contact ERRC Mandate and
Communications Officer Dr. Rita Izsák at +36-1-413-2200
(rita.izsak@errc.org).

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Centre is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Centre, visit the ERRC on the web at
http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Centre
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

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