Three gypsy men had a jolly good time in the local tavern in Kesznyéten, a medium-sized village in Borsod county. After consuming a fair amount of alcohol they decided to steal cucumbers from a villager’s vegetable garden. The gardener, a sixty-eight-year-old man, had had a lot of trouble with intruders who time and again stole his produce. He apparently reported the incidents to the police, to no avail. So he decided to take things into his own hands. He fenced his property with aluminum wire connected to the electrical current. At night at 10 o’clock he electrified his fence and the next morning at six, he shut it off. Apparently a lot of people in the village knew about his home-made contraption, including the three who decided to try to steal some cucumbers anyway. I guess they figured that they just had to be careful and all would be well. It didn’t turn out that way. The oldest (age 48) died on the spot, the second one (age 30) was seriously injured, and only the youngest managed to escape with minor injuries–some burns on his feet. He was the one who ran for help.
These three men were related, part of an extended family of about 50 to 60 people who vowed revenge. Luckily the police arrived with a large force and prevented any bloodshed. The old villager is charged with attempted murder (“több ember ellen elkövetett emberölés” is the Hungarian legal term; it implies that homicide was attempted against several people) while the two survivors are charged with larceny. The older villager apparently didn’t have the foggiest idea that his idea of protecting his property was not legal in Hungary. He believed that if the police didn’t defend him he had to defend himself. (I assume that in Hungary as in the United States ignorance of the law is no excuse. And that a person can’t take the law into his own hands.) According to György Magyar, one of those “star lawyers” who take high-profile cases, the Hungarian criminal code considers such a dangerous way of defending personal property disproportionate to the potential theft of that property. (Your life for my cucumbers.)
This case will receive a lot of media attention. The mayor of Monok, a town about 30 km from Kesznyéten, immediately came to the assistance of the elderly man. The mayor has been in the news lately because he was the one who decided not to give financial assistance to those in his town who refuse to work a certain number of days for their monthly allotment. Although it seems that demanding work for assistance is unconstitutional, he is not impressed with the ombudsman’s opinion. If necessary he is ready to go to the Constitutional Court, and he is also planning to hold a referendum on the question. In any case, he managed to get a pro bono lawyer for our man in Kesznyéten. As the lawyer said in an interview, he took the case because he agrees with the principle that an individual should be able to defend his property. In his opinion, the Hungarian criminal code’s provisions in this respect are deficient.
In the United States electric fences are common in rural areas, but they are erected not so much to keep intruders out as to keep animals in. Moreover, they aren’t designed to be lethal. As far as I know, the only lethal electrified fences in the U.S. are in high-security prisons.
I of course have no idea what will happen. If the gardener knew that his fence was lethal, I would think it well nigh impossible to mount a convincing defense. But if the villager is convicted the outcry will be unimaginable. In fact, I think that there might be real trouble between Gypsies and non-Gypsies. Luckily the Hungarian judicial system is so slow that it might take a whole decade before the case comes to trial. By that time the defendant could be dead.