Friends of murdered American petition against suspect’s release

Friends of Mike Murray, an American citizen who was stabbed to death in Prague last week, have been petitioning against the release of the suspect – a 27-year-old police officer - from custody. After the suspect was charged with murder on Thursday, a court in Prague released him, pending investigation, claiming it had found no reason why the suspect should await trial behind bars.

Mike Murray, a 44-year-old American working in Germany for the US Department of Defence, who regularly visited Prague in recent years, was killed early Wednesday morning by a drunken off-duty member of the Prague municipal police. The suspect was charged with murder but on Friday, a Prague court released him from custody - pending trial. This prompted the victim’s friends in Prague and elsewhere to start a petition protesting the court decision. Charlie Givens knew Mr Murray for almost ten years and worked with him in Germany.

“Mike’s friends, we all started this because it’s obviously just unimaginable that you’d let a murder suspect free until court. I don’t know what to think about it, it’s amazing.”

Last Tuesday, Mike Murray was going to spend the night in his car which he had parked in the street. Around 2 o’clock in the morning, a fight broke out between him and the 27-year-old policeman, who was off-duty, wearing plain clothes, and heavily drunk. It has not been established what exactly triggered the violent incident but it seems that the officer approached Murray and objected to him sleeping in his car. In the fight that ensued, he stabbed Mr Murray three times in the chest his penknife, piercing his heart and killing him. Charlie Givens says his friend may have had several reasons to spend the night in his car.

“We think it’s probably two things: he arrived later than he originally planned, and did not want to bother any of his friends to stay at their place. The second reason was that the car he was driving had been broken into a couple of times – I think three times in just last year alone. He was probably trying to keep watch over his own car.”

The suspect was arrested on the spot and was initially charged with manslaughter. Only later did the police up the charge to murder. The man was also suspended from the force. But on Friday, a court in Prague decided that there were no reasons to keep him in custody. Jaroslav Fenyk, an associate professor of criminal law at Masaryk University in Brno, says there are three reasons why courts can keep suspects in custody to await trial.

“First of all, it’s the seriousness of the case and the risk of flight; the second is the danger of the suspect influencing witnesses: other involved persons, or illegally influence the investigation. And the third is the concern that the accused might continue in the crime.”

Czech criminal law in this respect differs from the law in some Western countries, including the United States, where persons charged with violent crimes are automatically subject to detention without bail. The Prague court argued that the risk of the suspect fleeing is not high given his stable family ties and there was only one witness in the case who had already been questioned by the police. But Jaroslav Fenyk says that even so the court’s decision is unusual.

“It does not happen too often that a court releases a person from custody who has been accused of murder. I think it’s rare.”

Friends of the victim could not agree more. They are hoping that their petition will gain enough support to reach the country’s ombudsman, in order to pressure the court to reverse its decision.

“The main point is that the person who did this really should be detained until the trial. If this was someone who broke into a car and stole a radio, that would be understandable that the person can wait at home. But in this type of case we are talking about somebody who has been accused of murder. What we hope to achieve is that the court will see that it’s a mistake and that the man who did this should wait for his time in court in jail, like anybody else, whether it was you or me or any other person.”