Verdict in the Olaszliszka (Hungary) murder

On October 5, 2006, a teacher of biology in a "general" school in Tiszavasvári was driving with his two young daughters (ages 5 and 13) from Szerencs toward Olaszliszka. All these places are in one of the poorest regions of Hungary–in the northeast corner of the country close to the Slovak and the Ukrainian borders. The percentage of the Roma population there is very high. In some places around 30%. Both in Olaszliszka (population 1,945) and in Tiszavasvári (population 13,000) about 20% of the population is Gypsy. As the teacher was driving through Olaszliszka a young Gypsy girl ran out of one of the houses right in front of his car. Luckily nothing really happened to the little girl. Szögi immediately stopped, but even before he could get out of the car the extended family of the girl surrounded him and dragged him out. Then the savage beating began. Eventually the older girl got out of the car and asked for help. At this point her father was still alive. The onlookers remained impassive. The two girls started running down the road and were eventually picked up by a car. An ambulance was sent but it was too late. It was after this brutal murder that the extreme right began its anti-Roma campaign.

Olaszliszka became a symbol for the extreme right.Olaszliszka Ever since the murder it became a place of pilgrimage for different rightist groups, including, of course, the Hungarian Guard and the Goy Bikers. The bikers were there for the first anniversary. On the second anniversary the Goy Bikers, Jobbik, the Hungarian Guard, and the National Guard (Nemzeti Őrsereg) organized a torchlight possession. A huge police force managed to keep order but there have been numerous attacks on Gypsies in the village since. According to some, Olaszliszka is responsible for the organization of the Hungarian Guard. On the picture above one can see Szögi's older daughter with an escort on whose jacket is the map of Greater Hungary. They are standing in front of the monument erected at the site of the murder.

There was no question that the verdict would be severe. Eventually eight people had to stand trial, including the parents of the child who suffered no bodily injury as a result of the accident. The father, who was obviously the most heavily involved, received a life sentence. That means at least thirty years in jail. The mother, considered to be an accessory before the fact, received fifteen years. Four other adults received fifteen years each. In addition two of the accused were juveniles. They received ten years each, which they will have to spend in a juvenile detention center. All eight will have to pay court costs: 6.4 million forints. I doubt they have that much money. They are all appealing the verdict.

The judge, Attilia Czibrik, refused to consider the defense argument that the crime was committed in the heat of passion because, after all, the relatives knew that the child was fine. It was murder in the first degree. Lajos Szögi was beaten to death; in fact, he was lynched. The attackers' intention was not in question: they wanted to kill him.

But the judge opened up one avenue of appeal–the shoddy work of the police that made the prosecutor's job very difficult. And the defense lawyer for the parents (Dezső H. and his wife), knowing full well that his clients would be found guilty, during the course of the trial prepared the ground for an appeal. He complained about procedural mistakes on the part of both the judge and the prosecution. For instance, a youngster was called as a witness for the prosecution but was never informed of her right as a relative not to testify. And then there was the six-year-old boy who mysteriously surfaced only a couple of months ago as a witness and whose testimony was used against Mrs. Dezső H. According to other witnesses the culprit was not Mrs. Dezső H. but another relative whose child had been killed two years earlier by a drunk driver.

Most Hungarians are undoubtedly satisfied with the verdict. By Hungarian standards it is very severe. The Roma population most likely thinks that if the accused had been Magyars (i.e. not Gypsies) they would have received lighter sentences. Surely, there is no question that Lajos Szögi was beaten to death, but given the shoddy work of the police and the prosecutors some of the details of the crime might be subject to reasonable doubt.