Olaszliszka (Hungary) murder: Final verdict

It was on October 15, 2006, that Lajos Szögi and his two daughters were traveling through Olaszliszka when a child ran across the road in front of the car. As it turned out, the child fell but otherwise was unharmed. The driver stopped but the child's family without really knowing the fate of the girl broke the windshield of the car, dragged Szögi out of the driver's seat, and in front his two girls beat him to death.

At the end of May 2009 at last there was a verdict by the lower court. (See my blog of May 30, 2009: "Verdict in the Olaszliszka (Hungary) murder.") 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 considered to be most heavily involved, received a life sentence. That meant 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. The eight had to pay court costs: 6.4 million forints. They all appealed the verdict.

If the accused were hoping for lighter sentences on appeal, they were wrong. All eight were found guilty, but while the lower court sentenced only Dezső H., the father of the girl, to life, this time two more men received life sentences. In addition, the older brother of the girl received seventeen years. The sentences of the mother and the two juveniles remained unchanged. The Szögi family's lawyer, László Helmeczy, is satisfied with the harsher sentences, but he is still convinced that there were more people involved in the murder than the eight who eventually had to stand trial. The lawyer based his belief on the more than one hundred wounds found on Szögi's body at the time of the autopsy. Helmeczy claimed that Szögi was more concerned with the fate of the child than her own family. After all, instead of checking on the girl they occupied themselves with killing the innocent driver.

The lawyer for the accused Roma tried to argue that a few years earlier a drunk driver actually killed a Gypsy girl on the very same spot and drove off. The defense tried to convince the judge of the lower court that the irrational behavior of the Roma men and women of Olaszliszka harked back to that unfortunate deadly accident. The judge was not impressed.

I also heard a more scientific explanation for the strange behavior of the Roma in encounters with the non-Roma. Originally Gypsy families lived in "communes." Houses didn't have separate yards but all opened into a common courtyard where the children played together. These communes were areas that non-Gypsies practically never entered. They were in effect separate little ghettos, built not along busy roads but in little-trafficked areas. The Roma had their own enclaves undisturbed by strangers. This situation changed when in the socialist period Gypsies were settled in villages. Mind you, usually at the end of the main road going through the village, but the isolation that seemed to be so important to them could no longer be maintained. However, the instinct of defending their own turf is still with them. An interesting article appeared about this by Sándor Romano-Rácz, a Roma himself and author of several books on the Gypsies.

Well, this might all be very true, but the non-Roma population doesn't have much sympathy for such historical explanations. Most likely the apologies offered by some of the accused will not make an impression on either the non-Roma population of the country or the family of Lajos Szögi. Lajos Szögi Sr., the father of the deceased, already announced that there was "no forgiveness." I wasn't surprised by that. But I was somewhat taken aback that the "Szögi family is terrified because they are convinced that some of the men found guilty will go after them subsequent to their release from jail." After all, they added, the youngest will be only 26 years old when he walks out. That kind of fear sounds irrational to me.

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Beyond the tragic fate of Lajos Szögi, this unfortunate crime had an explosive impact on Hungarian politics. This event, which coincided in time with the crisis of Gyurcsány government, had catapulted the gipsy-crime issue into the public discussion and had contributed to the emergence of Jobbik as an important political force for being dare to speak about the gipsy-crime (cigány bűnözés).


You might not feel the fear irrational if you lived in Hungary. The country has seen just too many instances of lawlessness during its current history. It is perhaps also the reason why people occasionally and tragically take the law in their own hands. How serious the case is in this respect, I do not know but that this happens has become public knowledge.