Court of appeal reaches new verdict in race death case

20-12-2000

A court of appeal in the North Moravian town of Karvina increased the sentences on Tuesday of two far-right skinheads involved in the death in 1998 of a local Roma man. The man, Milan Lacko, died after he was set upon by a group of skinheads and run over as he was left lying in a road. But as Rob Cameron reports, the latest verdict is still far from satisfaction for his family.

Two skinheads involved in the incident were sentenced to one and three years in prison on Tuesday, the judge overruling the original suspended sentences which caused outrage when they were announced in October. But the result is unlikely to be celebrated in the Lacko household.

The attack took place one night in May 1998. Milan Lacko was walking home with his daughter Denisa and her boyfriend from a local restaurant. They were unlucky enough to pass a large group of skinheads standing outside a pub. The skinheads began hurling insults and then throwing glasses. Denisa Lackova says her father told her and her boyfriend to make a run for it, saying he would keep them occupied. The skinheads beat Milan Lacko to the ground and kicked him repeatedly as he lay in the road. Then they departed.

What happened next has still not been established beyond doubt. Mr Lacko, who had been drinking and was probably unconscious, was hit by a car driven by a police officer and killed. The police officer driving the vehicle, Marian Telega, was given a suspended sentence on Tuesday. The family's legal representative, Jakub Polak, claims that an earlier version of the story about Mr Lacko being hit by a goods van had been invented by police to cover for their colleague.

So the sentences have been made stricter, but the fact remains that it's taken the Czech courts two years to prosecute an obvious racially-motivated crime. The court originally ruled that the skinheads, and witnesses say as many as 20 of them were present during the attack, bore no responsibility for Mr Lacko's death, accepting the arguments of the state prosecutor - technically acting on behalf of the deceased and his family - that the vehicle was to blame for his death.

Even after this latest verdict, questions remain. The judge said there were a number of 'ifs' which could have prevented Lacko's death. The original attack was racially-motivated, he said, but Lacko was not fatally wounded. He was killed by a car, not a boot. And, he added, alcohol had played a role.

But the family's legal representative, Jakub Polak, again dismissed this version of events in a newspaper interview. If you beat someone up and then leave them lying in a road in the middle of the night, he said, you bear the lion's share of responsibility for what happens to them. Several years ago Mr Polak was involved in a another high-profile race killing, in which a gang of skinheads who forced a Roma boy to his death in a river were, after several agonising years in the Czech court system, finally found guilty of murder. Mr Polak says he will take the Lacko case all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary to get Milan Lacko's death recognised as murder.

20-12-2000