Legal developments in the trial of the killers of Mario Goral: A case reportby the ERRC
15 May 1998
The ERRC is grateful for the assistance of Mr Bohumír Bláha in the preparation of this report. Much of the factual detail contained herein was made public by Mr Bláha at an ERRC symposium on legal defence of the rights of Roma, held in Budapest in January 1997.
On July 21, 1995, a group of skinheads from at least three different Slovak towns gathered in Žiar nad Hronom, central Slovakia, and rampaged through the Romani neighbourhood, threatening and beating people and causing damage to property (see ERRC report Time of the Skinheads: Denial and Exclusion of Roma in Slovakia). During the melee, skinheads attacked a pub in which Roma had gathered and threw a bottle filled with flammable liquid inside, causing an explosion. They also assaulted a Romani man named R.S., causing him bodily injuries. The skinheads then attacked the flat of a Romani man named R.K. and threw a bottle through his window. Finally, they caught 17-year-old Mario Goral and beat him unconscious. One of the skinheads, R.Č., cut Mario Goral's face with a knife. A 19-year-old skinhead named T.K. then incited his younger accomplice, 16-year-old B.F., to douse Mario Goral, lying on the ground unconscious, with a mixture of gasoline and polystyrene which they had prepared in advance. B.F. then set the Romani boy on fire. Mario Goral suffered second and third degree burns to 63% of his body and died in the hospital ten days later, on July 31, 1995.
According to documents provided to Mr Bohumír Bláha, the lawyer of the victim's mother, by the Regional Office of Investigation (the branch of the police which conducts criminal investigation) in Banská Bystrica, the initial investigation, which concluded on October 27, 1995, resulted in the return of charges against two defendants relating to the violence against Mario Goral. R.Č., a minor, was charged with violence resulting in endangerment to health, in violation of Article 222, paragraphs 1 and 2b. B.F., also a minor, was charged with murder, in violation of Article 219, paragraphs 1 and 2b1 of the Slovak Criminal Code.2 In addition, R.E. and B.F. were charged as accomplices to the crime of breach of public order (Article 202(1)).3
On December 21, 1995, after further investigation conducted at the request of the prosecutor, the skinhead named T.K. was accused of both organising the attack, and directly inciting B.F. and R.Č. to kill Mario Goral. T.K. was charged with incitement to commit murder, in violation of Article 219(1), (2b) and (2f) in conjunction with Article 10(1b),4 and with the equivalent of obstruction of justice under Article 235, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Slovak Penal Code for his alleged threat to harm co-defendant B.F. if latter testified against him.5
Finally, on February 27, 1996, the prosecutor brought a new set of charges against seventeen persons for all crimes committed during the July 21 attack. Of these, only three defendants were charged with crimes relating to the death of Mario Goral. B.F. was charged with (i) murder, in violation of Article 219, paragraphs 1(b) and 2(f), and (ii) breach of public order, in violation of Article 202, paragraphs 1 and 2. T.K. was charged with (i) incitement to commit murder in violation of Article 219, paragraphs 1, 2(b) and (f) in conjunction with Article 10, paragraph 1(b), (ii) obstruction of justice, in violation of Art. 235(1), and (iii) breach of public order in violation of Article 202, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Slovak Penal Code. R.Č., who had cut Mario Goral's face with a knife during the attack, was charged with violence resulting in endangerment to health, in violation of Article 222, paragraphs 1 and 2(b). Fourteen other defendants, not found to be directly involved in the violence against Goral, were charged with racially-motivated violence under Article 196, paragraphs 2 and 36 and with breach of public order. The Slovak Penal Code does not specifically include the crime of racially-motivated murder.
Following the initial charges, the case has moved slowly through the judicial system. A hearing set for September 12, 1996, was postponed because one of the attorneys was not present. A second hearing was postponed because the presiding judge fell ill. Subsequently the judge ruled that all further proceedings would take place in private, a move of questionable necessity, but which was legally permitted under Penal Procedure Code Article 44, paragraph 2.7 This effectively precluded most of the injured parties from participating in the proceedings.
The trial finally took place on February 12, 1997, at a regional court in Banská Bystrica. The court found T.K. not guilty on the murder charge, since the principal evidence against him– the testimony of his co-defendant– was, in the court's view, equivocal. Specifically, during the pre-trial investigation, B.F. claimed that T.K. had ordered him to kill Goral. At the trial, however, B.F. claimed that he could not remember whether T.K. had ordered him to do so or not. T.K. was convicted under Article 235, paragraph 1 – of threatening his co-defendant B.F. with harm if he testified against him, disorderly conduct and racially motivated violence. He was sentenced to 27 months' imprisonment. B.F. was convicted of murder under Article 219, paragraphs 1, 2(b) and 2(f) and for disorderly conduct and he was sentenced to seven and one half years in prison, mid-way in the possible range of five to ten years available under the murder charge. R.Č. was convicted of disorderly conduct and racially motivated violence and sentenced to eight months in prison.
The prosecutor filed an appeal against the verdict shortly after the February hearing. However, the court failed to issue a written version of the verdict until October 1, 1997, thus delaying a hearing of the appeal. The appeal court held a hearing in December 1997 and confirmed the verdict of the first instance court. The appeal court however has not yet issued its written decision and until then, a civil action filed by Mr Bláha in October 1995, seeking financial compensation for the victims, remains suspended.
- Article 222(1) states, “Whoever intentionally seriously harms another shall be punished by imprisonment of between three and eight years.” Article 222(2)(b) states, “Three to ten year imprisonment shall be imposed in cases where the aforementioned act was committed against another on account of his or her political conviction, nationality, race, religious affiliation or for their lack of religious affiliation.” All translations of Slovak Penal Code articles are unofficial.
- Article 219(1) states, “He who deliberately kills somebody shall be punished by imprisonment of ten to fifteen years.” Article 219(2) states, “Imprisonment from twelve to fifteen years, or an exceptional punishment shall be meted out to the perpetrator who commits the offence referred to in paragraph 1, a) against two or more persons; b) in a particularly brutal or tormenting manner; c) repeatedly; d) against a person under fifteen; e) against a public servant while performing his duty or because of it; f) with the intention of obtaining material benefit or with the intention of concealing or facilitating a criminal offence or by reason of any other despicable motive.”
- Article 202(1) states, “He who commits a gross indecency publicly, or at a place accessible to the public and causes a disturbance, in particular by attacking someone else, defaming an historical or cultural monument, tomb or other memorial site, or he who in a gross manner disturbs the public meeting or ceremony of citizens, shall be punished by up to two years imprisonment, or by fine.” Article 202(2) states, “He who commits the offence referred to in paragraph 1 as a member of an organised group shall be punished by up to three years imprisonment.”
- Article 10(1) states, “ A person is considered to be a participant in a completed crime or in an attempt of a crime if he/she intentionally
a) organised or co-ordinated the commission of a crime (organiser)
b) incited someone to commit a crime (inciter)
c) provided someone else with help to commit a crime, especially by the provision of means, removal of obstacles, advice, encouragement in his/her decision to commit a crime, promise to contribute after committing the crime (aider and abetter)
- Article 235(1) of the Penal Code reads, “He who forcibly, under threat of violence or threat entailing any other grave harm, coerces somebody else to do, omit or ignore something, shall be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment.” Paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 235 provide conditions under which stiffer penalties may be handed down.
- Article 196(1) states, “He who threatens a group of individuals with killing, bodily harm, or with inflicting large-scale damage, shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one year.” Article 196(2) states, “He who resorts to violence against a group of inhabitants or individuals or threatens them with killing, bodily harm or with inflicting large-scale damage on account of their political conviction, nationality, race, religious affiliation or for their lack of religious affiliation, shall be punished by imprisonment for up to two years.” Article 196(3) states, “The same punishment as in paragraph 2 shall be applied to persons who commit this crime in a group.”
- Article 44(2) states, “In the proceedings held in respect of crimes subject to the jurisdiction of regional courts, under Article 17, the court shall rule on the participation of the injured on the basis of the nature of the case being heard.”