It was on January 20, 2008, that I wrote in some detail ("Justice in Hungary") about one of the most outrageous verdicts of the Hungarian judiciary in a brutal murder case committed in 2002. I highly recommend reading about this case and its aftermath because it will shed some light on the wretched state of Hungarian justice. I might add here that the falsely accused man is still in jail. Reading the piece Peter Kende published in Népszava in its aftermath, I can only hope that I will never have to stand as the accused in a Hungarian court.
The case is unfortunately not a fluke. Time and again I hear about cases with highly dubious evidence. Most of the time we'll never learn the truth, but here and there, just as in the murder case of 2002, by some lucky chance the real culprit is found. This seems to have happened again regarding the murder of Irma Balla, a local Fidesz politician in Debrecen, in her own house in April 2007. The murder was committed with "particular cruelty" that made the crime especially heinous. The victim's head was smashed with some heavy, perhaps iron instrument that was not found at the time. Her body was discovered the next morning by her twenty-eight-year-old son, a university student in Budapest who was spending the Easter holiday at home. He had an iron-clad alibi: he and his friends were picnicking miles away from Debrecen.
The police went around and around and came up empty-handed. Knowing full well that the public wants such crimes to be solved, the police become jittery. A year into the fruitless investigation the police decided that the culprit was after all Balla's son, Sándor Schöstein. That he had an alibi didn't matter. After all, in the 2002 murder case the defendant had an alibi testified to by three different people, but neither the prosecution nor the judge decided to take them seriously. Maybe they were lying. Sándor and his friends can say anything they want, the authorities simply don't believe them. And that's it. But if you don't trust the alibi there's also some awkward material evidence. For example, Irma Balla's cell phone that was found a few miles from her house in a public park from which a call was placed to a wrong number after the murder and before the picnic ended at one o'clock in the morning. The woman in Miskolc who received the call testified that it was a male voice but that it wasn't the voice of Balla's son.
But then came an interesting twist. A bricklayer who had had earlier runs-in with the law was arrested for some other crime. He kept talking about Irma Balla's house with which he was familiar. As part of a crew that worked on the house next door he was allegedly able to see the interior of the house through the window. The investigators became suspicious and eventually Lajos D. confessed to the murder. One would think that the court would then decide to suspend proceedings against Sándor Schönstein. But no. He is still the accused and as long as he is, no investigation can be launched against Lajos D.!
The defense lawyer, György Magyar, is totally frustrated by now. It is enough to look at his demeanor to know how he must feel. Only today he described the situation as a ping-pong match between the prosecutor and the court. The prosecutor claims that he passed on the confession of Lajos D. but the court refuses to drop the charge against Sándor. The case is proceeding as if nothing had happened. The next court hearing is scheduled for August 31.
Meanwhile, the defendant not only spent a year in jail but naturally had to interrupt his university studies at Corvinus University. In his absence the curriculum was completely revised as a result of the new so-called Pisa system that introduced the English system of B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. Moreover, his major is no longer offered so it will take him a lot longer to finish his studies. And being touted as "the mother murderer" surely couldn't have been a very pleasant experience. However, he seems to be philosophical about the whole thing and was just happy to have his father and the rest of the family standing by him. His friends were also absolutely certain that he was innocent. He is a very mild-mannered young man but his lawyer is less stoical. He is going to claim at least 50 million forints as compensation for his client's sufferings. But, of course, first he has to get poor Sándor out of the claws of the Hungarian justice system. Might not be so easy.