Hungarian judges: The case of Mór

A change of pace. For those of you who have had enough of my lengthy, three-part description of the political  maneuvers of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz I'm taking a break to talk about the infamous Mór case. I'm doing this because several of my readers simply couldn't believe that without any tangible evidence a man could be sentenced to life without parole. Someone even asked: "Where on earth was the defense lawyer?" Indeed, one could ask this but, believe me, even Clarence Darrow wouldn't have had a chance in the courtroom of Zoltán Varga, the "best criminal judge in the country!" That is at least what his colleagues say about him. He gets the most important cases and, because of his alleged expertise, he ended up being the judge of "the crime of the century" as the Mór case was described by journalists.

First, the bare facts. At noon on May 9, 2002, two people robbed the Mór branch of the Erste Bank. They took seven million forints, even then not a great deal of money, but in the course of the robbery eight people were shot to death, including a security guard. The police were a great deal more careful in securing the crime scene than they were at the site of the first Roma murder a couple of years ago. They immediately sealed the bank tight and the investigation began. If you can call it an investigation.

One must realize that such a blood bath hadn't happened in Hungary in time immemorial. Therefore there was huge pressure on the police to come up with results. Indeed, they were in a hurry to oblige. On the day after the crime they came up with two names: Szilárd Horváth and Róbert Farkas, two no-goods with a list of criminal offenses a mile long. At the time the police were actually looking for them in connection with a string of robberies. A few days later Horváth gave himself up and somehow managed to convince the police that he had nothing to do with the murders in Mór. Mind you, even a year later the police made noises to the effect that perhaps Horváth and Farkas had somehow been involved in the bank robbery in Mór. (They weren't.) Farkas hasn't surfaced since.

On May the 10th, a day after the crime, the police announced that a high-powered team was working day and night on the investigation. Their very best men. The "investigation" cost one billion forints. On the same day they offered a prize of 10 million forints to anyone who could offer information leading to the arrest of the culprits. A few days later they upped the ante to 25 million, a truly enticing sum of money. A lawyer representing an unknown informant showed up a few days later and gave bits and pieces of information about a family with three daughters in Mór with whom the unnamed assailant was in touch. The police found the family easily enough (Mór is not a very big place) and they received two names from the family: Attila Kiglics and Ede Kaiser. The informant was Attila Kiglics himself, and he immediately turned in his old friend and partner in crime Ede Kaiser who lived in Budapest, to be more precise in Csepel, a large island in the Danube.

I have a personal story about the arrest of Ede Kaiser. At that time I was the moderator of a list on Hungarian politics and one of our members lived in Csepel. One morning in May 2002 she wrote a lengthy description of the events of the night before, events that happened right across from her house in the house where Ede Kaiser lived. Our friend was a witness to the arrest. As you can imagine, she was both excited and astonished. After all, at that time the whole country was talking about nothing else but the Mór murders. She was surprised to find the "murderer" living practically next door to her family's house. Well, not so. Ede Kaiser was a crook and a criminal, but he was no murderer and had nothing to do with the Mór case.

Kiglics didn't stop with accusing Kaiser. He also dragged in another partner in crime, László Hajdú, who had been a member of the French Foreign Legion. But Kiglics's story was paper thin. The only thing he could tell the police was that Kaiser became flush with cash about the time of the murders in Mór: he leased a Mercedes and purchased a Breitling watch in Vienna. About Hajdú the only thing he came up with was that he had an automatic weapon. As it turned out later, Kaiser had robbed a money exchanger in Austria and that's why he was suddenly so rich.

The police stuck with their claim that it was Kaiser and Hajdú who murdered the eight people in Mór. They relied entirely on Kiglics's testimony. Everything he uttered they accepted as fact. They never had any doubts about the veracity of the man who himself was a criminal. It never occurred to them that 25 million forints for Kiglics was a real incentive to point the finger at Kaiser and Hajdú. The investigators cut a deal with Kiglics such that he would receive only two and a half years for an earlier crime, a sentence that was eventually commuted by the president. I guess for the excellent work he did in helping the police and the court to sentence two innocent men. Kiglics had another case pending that would have meant a sentence of between five and ten years but Zoltán Varga, the judge involved in the Mór case, reduced that sentence to only three years. Kiglics pocketed the 25 million, which was naturally not returned to the police after it became clear that Kaiser and Hajdú were not guilty of this particular crime.

As I mentioned, they arrested Kaiser and Hajdú and tried to play the old "good cop, bad cop" scenario but they got nowhere. Both men steadfastly denied that they had anything to do with Mór. They readily admitted their other crimes, including the one in Austria, but not this one. Meanwhile expert opinions came in; there was no forensic evidence that could establish the guilt of either Kaiser or Hajdú. Then came the real bombshell as far as the Hungarian police was concerned: Hajdú had an airtight alibi. He was selling his apartment in Csepel. There was a potential buyer who came to see the place on May 8, a day before the murders, and promised to give an answer the following day. The cell phone's record proved the accuracy of Hajdú's story. He was in Csepel on May 9 and he had a telephone conversation with the potential buyer. The police, sticking to their preconceived ideas, came up with an interesting theory: Hajdú "created" his alibi by leaving his cell phone in Csepel. But the potential buyer came back from abroad and confirmed Hajdú's story: he talked to Hajdú. So Hajdú had to be in Csepel. At this point the prosecutors got cold feet and decided that after all with this "theory" they couldn't possibly go to court and charge Hajdú with the murders in Mór. Thus, the indictment merely named Hajdú as an accessory to murder since he supplied the weapon to Kaiser. But there was a problem even with this "theory": the weapon used in the bank robbery wasn't the one Hajdú owned. The experts identified the murder weapon as a Skorpion but Skorpions were never used in the French Foreign Legion.

Kaiser also had an alibi. His cell phone was again used in Csepel at his girlfriend's house on the day of the murder. Both Anita Gyuris and her parents testified that Kaiser was with them. Again the police came up with some cockeyed explanation of alibi creation and false witnesses.

As it turned out, neither the fingerprints nor the footprints matched those of Kaiser and Hajdú. Never fret. Kaiser must have wiped the whole bank clean! Or, in another version, dry skin doesn't leave prints! All that was the figment of the prosecutors' imagination which the judges (both lower court and appellate court) accepted. As for the description of Kaiser, that didn't match either. Most people claimed that the alleged murderer was a tall man and Kaiser wasn't. One witness initially identified Szilárd Horváth (the man the police first accused of the murder), then picked out someone who had no connection to the crime, and finally came up with Kaiser but added that he wasn't 100% sure. In the indictment the text implied that the identification was absolutely fullproof.

And what happened to Kaiser and Hajdú after the real murderers were found almost five years later and the forensic evidence definitively tied them to the crime? Kaiser spent another 33 months in jail. The prosecution and the courts refused to drop the charges because they for the longest time would not admit that they were wrong. A couple of times they even floated the possibility that in addition to the two real murderers Kaiser and Hajdú were also present. It was only about a month ago that at last the murder charges against Kaiser were finally dropped. For his other crimes he will remain in jail for a while. Hajdú's charges were dropped about a year ago.

The police and the prosecution until the very end claimed that they did a marvelous job.

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Odin's lost eye
There is sometimes a problem with experts and other high-powered luminaries. It is the ‘idea-fixée’. Once a fixed idea has settled in such a mind it is unlikely that any thing short of a dynamite enema will shift it. This can be compounded by a strict disciplinary hierarchy. Under these conditions underlings are often afraid or unwilling to tell ‘De Boss’ bad news. Equally there is a sort of ‘camaraderie of experts’ where an expert in one discipline implicitly trusts the work of an expert in another, different, discipline. This leaves us with the question “What on earth were the defence lawyers doing?” In a unitary court where there is a single one judge, who will have seen the ‘papers in the case’, the problem is different from a trial with a jury. With a jury trial the minds of the jurors in general are like blank sheets of paper. With a unitary court the defence council has to look for the inconsistencies in the evidence and point this out to the judge, forcibly if necessary. If the judge has access to information which is not made available to the defence, then this is a case for a miss-trial under… Read more »