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Task Force Recommends Reopening of Murder Cases

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Task Force Recommends Reopening of Murder Cases

court_gavel_familycourtservicesA task force appointed by the Minister of the Interior to review the investigation, trial and conviction following the disappearance of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson in 1974 presented their findings yesterday. They recommend reopening the cases of the six people convicted for murdering them.

The report states that the testimonies of the six defendants, Erla Bolladóttir, Sævar Marínó Ciesielski, Kristján Viðar Viðarsson, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Albert Klahn Skaftason and Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, both during questioning and at the trial were without doubt either unreliable or false, Fréttablaðið reports.

The conclusion of its authors, including Gísli Guðjónsson, one of the world’s most experienced forensic psychologists, and psychology professor Jón Fr. Sigurðsson, is that the six individuals who were convicted for the murders of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur likely had nothing to do with their disappearance. Their bodies were never found.

Gísli said he has worked on more than 1,000 cases where he has had to evaluate the truth value of testimonies and he has never had to work as hard on any case as this.

What the task force considers highly unusual about the investigation is that the suspects spent weeks or months in isolation. “It is known that lengthy periods in isolation can have serious effects on people’s thoughts and mental condition,” the report reads.

Gísli stated that nowhere but in the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay have defendants been kept in isolation for a comparable length of time.

All six suspects were questioned often, informally in their cells, sometimes at night and for long periods at a time, the report pointed out.

“This is a serious flaw in the treatment of criminal cases and shows that it is not at all possible to solely rely on reports estimating the testimonies of defendants. Such work methods increase the risk of defendants confessing to having been party to cases in which they weren’t involved and had no knowledge of.”

There was discrepancy between accounts of the supposed events and the defendants often changed their testimonies, which investigators interpreted as if they were trying to complicate matters.

“It is as if investigators never considered other possibilities than that the defendants were guilty. It is far more likely that the discrepancy resulted in the defendants’ lack of knowledge of the cases and that they had nothing to do with them,” the authors conclude.

“It was a mistake to convict these individuals,” commented Gísli, forensic psychologist and one of the authors of the report.

The task force suggests three possible means of having the cases reopened: that the state prosecutor evaluates whether there is reason to reopen them, that the defendants themselves seek reopening of the cases with support of public funds, or that a bill recommending the reopening of the cases be submitted to parliament.

“To appoint a task force to work on such a report is in itself a recognition of their cause,” commented Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson when asked whether there is reason for him or other officials to apologize to the defendants. “And the report is in itself a form of an apology. In other words, society is reacting very seriously to this case.”

Ögmundur would like to wait for a response from the state prosecutor on the next steps before making any decisions. “We must also learn what the intent of the defendants themselves is, whether they want to take the initiative.”

MP Björgvin G. Sigurðsson, who chairs the Alþingi parliament’s Judicial Affairs and Education Committee called representatives of the task force to a meeting with the committee today.

They will discuss what legal amendments may be necessary, for example to reopen the cases of two of the defendants who have passed away. In RÚV’s news magazine Kastljós’ coverage of the report and murder cases yesterday, the following overview of convictions was included:

Erla Bolladóttir spent 239 days in custody and was given a three-year prison sentence for having been party to the death of Geirfinnur.

Sævar Marínó Ciesielski spent 1,533 days in custody, of which 615 were in isolation, and was given a 17-year prison sentence for having been party to both the death of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur. Kristján Viðar Viðarsson spent 1,522 days in prison, of which 503 were in isolation, and was given a 16-year prison sentence for having been party to both the death of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur.

Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson spent 1,522 days in custody, of which 655 were in isolation, and was given a 13-year prison sentence for having been party to Guðmundur’s death. Albert Klahn Skaftason spent 87 days in custody and was given a one-year prison sentence for having been party to Guðmundur’s death and for covering it up.

Guðjón Skarphéðinsson spent 1,202 days in custody, of which 412 were in isolation, and was give a ten-year prison sentence for having been party to the murder of Geirfinnur.

Four of Sævar’s five children, Hafþór Sævarsson, Sigurþór Sævarssonar, Victor Blær Jensen and Lilja Rún Jensen, were present during the report’s presentation yesterday. They are working towards having their father’s name cleared.

Hafþór, who is a law student, stated it is great that officials have finally acknowledged that the confessions of the defendants were meaningless. “It is sad that [my father] isn’t here with us. But I am glad that his fight has delivered results.”

Sævar, who passed away in 2011, tried in vain to have his case reopened in 1996.

Tryggvi, who died in 2009, kept diaries while in custody. They were made public in 2011 and were one of the reasons that the task force was appointed to review the cases.

Related:

07.10.2011 | Infamous Icelandic Murder Case to Be Reviewed

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