Trial of four accused of racially-motivated attempted murder begins

Foto: ČTK

The trial of four defendants accused of racially-motivated attempted murder in an attack on a Romany family last year began under tight security on Tuesday in the city of Ostrava. Last year on the night of April 19th they are suspected of having firebombed the family’s residence, using Molotov cocktails. Three people were injured, including a toddler who suffered severe burns and barely survived. If found guilty, the four accused could face up to 15 years in prison or even receive exemplary life sentences.

Last April the news of a vicious firebomb attack on a Romany family in eastern Moravia, shocked the country and led to an intense and unparalleled investigation to find the perpetrators. Four months later, four individuals - David Vaculík, Jaromír Lukeš, Ivo Müller and Václav Cojocaru, all in their 20s, all with ties to right-wing extremism, were charged. Now, a little over a year later, under the tightest security and armed guard, their trial has begun.

Václav Cojocaru,  Ivo Müller  (right),  photo: CTK
Two of the accused – Mr Müller and Mr Cojocaru – testified on Tuesday, saying their intent had never been to harm anyone, claiming that none of the four had any idea the home was inhabited or they would have acted differently. They said they wanted only to burn down an empty residence, where one of the defendants, Jaromír Lukeš, had claimed that Romanies had lived in the past. The aim, they suggested, was only to make a mark within the right-wing extremist movement, of which all four of the accused are members. In that respect, it has not been lost on the prosecution, or the media, that the attack took place on the eve of April 20th – or the 120th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler.

Jaromír Lukeš,  David Vaculík  (right),  photo: CTK
That’s not all that the accused Václav Cojocaru and Ivo Müller said on Tuesday: they also suggested to the court that of the four it was their colleague Jaromír Lukeš who had come up with the plan, seemingly suggesting they had been talked into it. Mr Müller suggested that Lukeš “probably wanted to gain attention for the far-right movement, or perhaps to scare the Roma”, claiming that he had said that the site was a storage space for stolen property they could destroy to teach the Roma a lesson. Both Mr Lukeš and the fourth defendant, David Vaculík, meanwhile, have refused to testify, but Mr Lukeš’s lawyer has downplayed his client’s role as the main organiser, saying that was a label that had been applied by the media.

The prosecution of course is aiming to prove that the attackers must have known the residence was inhabited and above all to prove that the attack was a racially-motivated murder attempt. Müller, Cojocaru, Vaculík are said to have been the ones who threw the actual petrol bombs into the home, while Lukeš waited in the car because he allegedly knew the most suitable routes for escape. The lawyer for the little girl, severely injured in the attack, is also seeking 9 million crowns – or the equivalent of around 550,000 US dollars – in damages, while the family as a whole is seeking an additional 900,000 crowns in compensation.

Anna Siváková with Natálka,  photo: CTK
But Natálka’s mother, Anna Siváková, made clear on Monday that above all she and her family want to see justice done, telling public broadcaster Czech TV that her daughter was going to suffer because of her extensive injuries for the rest of her life. Even now she will have to undergo still further surgery.

According to Czech TV on Monday, a verdict in the case – the most infamous in the country in recent memory – is expected as early as sometime next month.