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Waldemar T. acquitted. Justice system admits its fault

“It should never happen in a democratic state ruled by law that a murder trial is pending for 18 years. The court, however, is not going to look for those responsible within the ranks of the Prosecution Service. The entire justice system – law enforcement bodies, first and second instance courts – should beat their breasts”, these were the summing-up words of the District Court Judge Igor Tuleya, who brought to an end the sixth trial in the case of Waldemar T. After 18 years, the defendant was acquitted once again.

His case is one of the oldest cases run by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Almost twenty years ago Waldemar T. was charged with the murder which was committed in the Warsaw District of Bielany.

The incident, which gave rise to the said proceedings, took place on 24 October 1995. On that day, the victim, Paweł P., went to a shop in Palisadowa street accompanied by his colleague. There, he became involved in an altercation with one of the men standing in front of the shop. At some point, the latter took out a gun and twice shot Paweł P. in the back.

Shortly afterwards, Waldemar T. was named a suspect in the case. What incriminated him was the testimony of an eyewitness (who identified T. with 60 per cent certainty) as well as information obtained from an anonymous witness. On the other hand, the prosecution dismissed testimony of the witnesses who provided an alibi for Waldemar T. Ultimately, the case was taken to court. For eighteen years the case moved around between the courts of first and second instance. In the first trial, the accused was given a 15-year prison sentence, only to be acquitted in the next four trials.

During the last week’s hearing, a prosecutor from the District Prosecutor’s Office Warszawa-Żoliborz, once again requested a 15-year prison sentence for T. Quite the opposite was the submission of Mr Andrzej Pęczkowski, counsel for the defendant. He pointed out a series of questionable circumstances concerning the case, the most evident being the unclear role of the anonymous witness, who, at the beginning of the trial, was among the suspects of the killing.

A representative of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (which joined the case as a community organisation), who spoke before Mr Pęczkowski, indicated that the number of errors made during the pre-trial proceedings should not go unnoticed and the court adjudicating in the case should at least name persons who are morally responsible for the defendant’s ordeal.

Giving reasons for the decision to acquit Waldemar T. the presiding judge noted that the evidence collected in the case clearly and unambiguously shows that the defendant had not committed the deed he was charged with. He had never been identified, his alibi had never been refuted, and the opinion of an expert anthropologist shows that he is not the person pictured in the composite sketch. The judge also stressed that the burden of proof rested with the public prosecutor, and as long as they did not overcome the presumption of innocence, the defendant cannot be declared guilty.

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