MINELRES: ERRC: Hungarian Court Acquits Two Romani Men after 2100 Days in Wrongful Imprisonment for Murder

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Fri Aug 5 12:03:42 2005

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

ERRC Secures Release after Wrongful Imprisonment for Murder

Budapest, 1 August 2005: The Hajdú-Bihar County Court has acquitted at retrial 
two Romani men previously found guilty of murder. The two men, originally 
convicted on the basis of very weak evidence, had been sentenced to serve 15 
and 13 years imprisonment respectively in 1999.

The facts of the case are as follows:

On 4 March 1999, a man was robbed and murdered in the village of  
Újszentmargita 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 victim's 
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 took as evidence that a pair of boots had been burned and buried the 
fact that only one pair of boots was found in the house. Furthermore, the 
prosector described as "suspicious" the fact that, at the time of arrest, the 
Burkas had washed their clothes and hung them out to dry. During the 
investigation, police disregarded the fact that they discovered a red hair in 
victim's hand when they found the body and that the Burkas both have black hair.

On 2 April 2002, having been found guilty, the two men were sentenced to 15 and 
13 years imprisonment. They began serving the sentences on 16 March 1999.

After lawyers engaged by the ERRC -- Dr. László Zeke and Dr. Péter 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 were placed under house arrest. They had, by that time, already 
spent exactly 2100 days in a penitentiary. In the meantime, other witnesses 
came forward who testified to their innocence. Witnesses also fingered another 
man, Mr. L.T., who reportedly stated that he was the actual perpetrator and had 
carried out the deed because he thought the victim had stolen some construction 
tools from him.

On 9 July 2005, on the basis of extensive argumentation indicating that the 
Burkas had been wrongly convicted, the Hajdú-Bihar County Court acquitted the 
two men. The prosecutor has appealed the decision and, therefore, the judgment 
is not yet legally binding. The proceedings confirm that racial animus 
continues to play a significant role in the Hungarian criminal justice system.

Dr. László Zeke represented Ferenc Burka Sr. and Dr. Péter Margitics, supported 
by the ERRC, represented Ferenc Burka Jr. For more information on the case, 
please contact ERRC Legal Monitor 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

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



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