Today, for a change of pace, I’m turning to a high-profile murder case in Hungary.
Way back on April 2, 2011 I wrote about a murder that had been committed in 2007. Irma Balla, a local Fidesz politician in Debrecen, was brutally murdered in her home. The police investigated for a whole year, after which they decided that the murderer must have been the woman’s son, Sándor Schönstein, even though he had an iron-clad alibi. He was at a picnic miles away at the time of the murder. Alibi notwithstanding, Schönstein was immediately incarcerated.
His lawyer, the well-known György Magyar, continued battling with the investigators, whom he considered incompetent and negligent. Magyar was clearly frustrated, and at one point he became a kind of Perry Mason, the TV lawyer who together with a private investigator had to solve cases in order to get his clients acquitted. Magyar began his own investigation and found a plausible suspect, Lajos D. Lajos D. had been questioned as a witness because he happened to be working next door at the time of the murder. He already had a criminal record and was, in fact, in jail when he was questioned. During his testimony he gave a fairly accurate description of the interior of Balla’s house. When asked how he could possibly know all this, he claimed that while working on the house next door he could see all the details from a reflection in an open window. György Magyar and his private detective ascertained that Lajos D. was not telling the truth. No matter the time of the day or the weather, one couldn’t see much from the reflection in the window. When a bit more pressure was put on Lajos D., he confessed to the murder twice, only to withdraw his confessions a day or two later. In any case, the police didn’t seem to be interested in him.
In 2009 Schönstein was sentenced to twelve years for the murder of his mother. In 2011, when I wrote my post, the appellate court had taken up the case and had some harsh words to say about the investigation, the prosecution, and the judges of the lower court. The court declared the earlier sentencing null and void. The whole court proceeding had to be repeated. In November 2012 Schönstein was acquitted due to lack of evidence. A year later the appellate court of Debrecen agreed with the lower court. But meanwhile, Schönstein, a university student, had spent two years in jail. Ever since he has been trying to receive compensation for his suffering from the Hungarian state.
I guess everybody thought back in 2013 that this was the end of story. In late 2014, however, dehir.hu learned that the investigation hadn’t been abandoned. But instead of the Keystone Kops of Debrecen, Hungary’s top investigators from the headquarters of the national police force in Budapest descended on the city. A few months later, in early March 2015, they were prepared to press charges against the same Lajos D. that Schönstein’s lawyer, from the very beginning, had thought was the culprit.
Lajos D. seems to spend more time in jail than not. When the Schönstein case was heard in 2009, Lajos D. was once again in jail. György Magyar insisted that he be a witness at the trial. On this occasion he again confessed to the murder and specifically mentioned the crowbar which he used to break Irma Balla’s neck. The Debrecen police didn’t take the confession seriously. They figured that Lajos D. had confessed in order to get out of jail a few times during the court proceedings. Brilliant, isn’t it? And, by the way, Lajos D. is in jail again. This time he is serving an eight-year sentence for robbery. Finally, he has been charged with the murder of Irma Balla.
So, what happened? The whole case was taken out of the hands of the Debrecen police who made too many mistakes to list. Those who want more details should read the article in dehir.hu. The panel of judges was also either incompetent or negligent. Perhaps both. During the trial Lajos D. had two people testify on his behalf, but their testimony was anything but exculpatory. For example, a friend of his told the judge that when he asked Lajos D. whether he had anything to do with the murder, he paused for a while and did not give an unequivocal answer. Lajos D.’s half brother, contrary to his earlier statement, admitted during the trial that Lajos was not at home during the night of the murder. All that was ignored by the court of Hajdú-Bihar County. I might add that in June 2013 the judge who sentenced Sándor Schönstein to 12 years was promoted because of his outstanding professionalism.
So what did the Budapest detectives find that the Debrecen cops missed? Lajos D.’s DNA, which apparently was found on a blanket under Irma Balla’s body. According to Népszabadság, some new technique made the discovery possible. Of course, I have no idea about the progress in DNA research over the last few years, but I’m a bit skeptical. This story sounds to me like a ploy to mask the total incompetence of the Debrecen police. But at least now Sándor Schönstein can be found not guilty not just because the court couldn’t find evidence that he committed the murder but because, it seems, the murderer was somebody else.