President pardons man sentenced to six years for shooting

Karel Bašta, foto: ČTK

On Wednesday, President Václav Klaus issued an official pardon to a man serving a six-year prison sentence for attempted murder. The case of Karel Bašta, who shot at thieves escaping his property, seriously injuring one of them, was recently addressed by the Supreme Court, which upheld the stiff sentence by ruling that in similar cases killing a thief in defence of property needed to be assessed as murder – not manslaughter. By granting a pardon, the president has brought the case to a surprising conclusion, one that the convicted man himself could not have expected.

Karel Bašta, photo: CTK
Karel Bašta, who began a six-year prison sentence in January, walked out of jail a free man on Wednesday after receiving a pardon from the country’s president – a decision, the president’s office said, that had been taken in view of his previously spotless record. Two years ago, Mr Bašta opened fire at a car with thieves he suspected of stealing from his scrap yard, slightly injuring the driver and seriously wounding his accomplice, who lost her eyesight. Later, he offered the youths financial compensation and maintained, in the legal suit that followed, that he hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone but simply reacted in distress.

That argument was most recently rejected by the Supreme Court, which in addition said controversially that similar cases resulting in death should be tried as murder as opposed to manslaughter. That was something many legal experts immediately countered would be difficult to enforce: in their view such incidents, in which circumstances can radically vary, can only be taken on a case-by-case basis. At the time, here’s what Czech lawyer Jaroslav Ortman had to say:

“I think that the court has to approach individual cases ad hoc, case by case. It’s not possible to say in general in all cases it will always be ‘murder’. I’m convinced of that.”

Indeed, soon after the Supreme Court modified its ruling, agreeing with the ad hoc assessment. As for Mr Bašta, following the court’s decision, he could not have suspected he would be released within a matter of weeks. On Wednesday, he expressed his genuine surprise upon being told he was walking free:

Václav Klaus
“The guards kind of suggested something like that but I thought to myself they were just having a laugh. Then, when I came back from lunch a higher-ranked official told me Karel, pack your bags.”

The pardon has brought the Supreme Court’s recent ruling back into the spotlight as well as details in Mr Bašta’s own case. One thing not discussed by the press in recent weeks but which certainly sheds light on the incident two years ago is this: prior to the shooting at the vehicle, sources report, he was burgled almost 20 times and was once even shot at himself.