AN AMERICAN police expert has declared that four men convicted of the 1976 murder of medical student Ľudmila Cervanová are innocent. US police expert Robert Edward Lee made the statement to the weekly news magazine Týždeň and private TV channel Markíza, based on the results of polygraph tests which the four convicted men - Stanislav Dúbravický, František Čerman, Juraj Lachman and Pavol Beďač - underwent last year.
Lee has a licence as a forensic polygraph specialist and since 1996 has been a consultant to and instructor at Slovak Intelligence Service. He confirmed the statement of his colleague, Patrick T. Coffey, another American expert and computer polygraph examiner, who began testing the four convicts in 2007 and, after a month of testing, declared that none of them had anything to do with the murder. Coffey, like Lee, trains employees of Slovakia's spy agency, the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), and the Supreme Control Office to work with polygraph machines.
Another two convicts, Milan Andrášik and Miloš Kocúr, could not take part in the polygraph tests. They are currently being held in Leopoldov prison, whose director rejected their request to take part.
Lee examined the results of the polygraph tests in the Cervanová case and came to the same conclusion as Coffey: "The results are correct," Lee told the private TV channel Markíza on May 4 2008.
Asked by the Týždeň weekly on April 21, whether he was familiar with the case, which concerns the murder of Cervanová, a young medical student, more than 30 years ago, he said that he was: "Due to what I know, there are several problems concerning the investigation. I support this claim based on my education and 42-year experience in the police," he told Týždeň.
"If the test is prepared and evaluated by a trained expert in this field, the rate of success is about 95 percent," Lee told Markíza, and stressed that Patrick Coffey was a skilled and experienced polygraph tester.
According to a verdict of the Supreme Court on December 4, 2006, Juraj Lachman, František Čerman, Stanislav Dúbravický, Pavol Beďač, Miloš Kocúr, and Milan Andrášik kidnapped 19-year old Ľudmila Cervanová from a Bratislava disco on July 9, 1976, and then raped and killed her. The protracted case has been going on for more than 30 years. During hearings in the Bratislava Regional Court, and later the Supreme Court, the written testimonies of almost 320 witnesses concerning events at the disco were found in national police archives in Levoča. The interviews began shortly after the body had been found. None of the testimonies found in the Levoča archives mentioned that any of the men later convicted had been present at the disco.
According to Allan Böhm, the lawyer for František Čerman and Pavol Beďač, polygraph tests are not accepted as evidence in the criminal justice system. But Böhm stressed that the polygraph results prove one thing that he is already sure about: that the six men are innocent. "It is a supporting piece of evidence that these people have nothing to do with the murder of Cervanová," Böhm told The Slovak Spectator.
Böhm also said that, along with other lawyers acting for those convicted, he has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against its verdict, as well as a complaint with the Constitutional Court. In their appeal, the lawyers object in particular to the fact that the senate of the Supreme Court refused to deal with the evidence in the documents found in 2003 in the police archives in Levoča. Before then, they had been classified and unknown. "The appeal concerns the violation of criminal justice procedures, as the court did not have the complete documentation. It did not take into account all the evidence from the case, in spite of having been aware of it," Allan Böhm stressed to The Slovak Spectator.
The sentenced men's lawyers filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court over the Cervanová case since they believe that the court trial contravened the basic human rights of the convicts. "They did not have the chance to comment on the evidence found in Levoča," Böhm told The Slovak Spectator, adding: "This means the criminal proceedings were illegal."
Böhm thinks that the reason that the Constitutional Court has taken no action so far is that it is waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court concerning the appeal.
Peter Preti, from the Office of the Supreme Court, told The Slovak Spectator that the chairman of the new senate which will hear the appeal, Harald Stiffel, is still familiarising himself with the case, since it is very complicated. Furthermore, the whole five-member senate has not yet been chosen.
Every member of the senate will have to study the case thoroughly, Preti said.
Milan Karabín, the president of the Supreme Court, told media in February 2007 that he thought the result of the polygraph test was not legally relevant evidence: "In my opinion, the polygraph results are not evidence," he stressed.
During police questioning in the 1980s, Juraj Lachman, from Nitra, admitted he was at the disco in the Unic Club in Bratislava on July 9, 1976, from where Ľudmila Cervanová was kidnapped, and that he took part in a party in a villa in the neighbourhood of Trnávka. He also said that during the party he brought a clothesline so that other students could bind Cervanová. Thanks to his affidavit, the investigators accused the other men, all from Nitra.
The men were originally convicted in 1981, but since the 1990s Lachman has repeated at court trials that his testimony was false, and that he had been forced to make it by the police. Coffey, the American police expert, backed his claim in February 2007. Speaking to the Týždeň weekly, Coffey said of the test results: "Mr. Lachman needed to score at least six points to pass the test. He got eighteen points!"
"For me as a professional, it is absolutely clear that he was not a witness to any crime in this case," Coffey added.
After the 1989 revolution, the Czechoslovak Federal Supreme Court freed all the men sentenced in the Cervanová murder after finding seventy-two faults in the proceedings of investigators and of the lower courts. It returned the case to a lower court for re-trial. It took seventeen years to decide on the case.
On December 4, 2006, a senate of the Supreme Court found the six men from Nitra guilty of the murder committed on July 9, 1976. It refused to consider as evidence the testimonies recorded by police at the beginning of the investigation which had lain hidden in the Levoča archives until 2003. Those testimonies comprise 8,000 pages processed by the police in the first two years of the Cervanová murder investigation, i.e. between 1976 and 1978.
During the oral announcement of the verdict, the chairman of the senate, Štefan Michálik, spared little sympathy for the convicted men. For example, commenting on their defence that they were mentally and physically tortured in prison in order to make them confess to the crime, he said: "Pre-trial custody is no holiday in a hotel room with free board." And he added that he was absolutely sure of their guilt, stressing: "It's a good thing for the accused that Slovakia no longer has the death penalty."
There were a series of delays in sentencing with Michálik taking six months to produce a written verdict despite the law stipulating that this be done within a month. Following the court's oral judgement on December 4, 2006, Michálik asked five times for an extension to produce the written version, arguing this was needed because of the complexity of the case.
Three of the convicts were given a longer sentence than after their conviction by the Regional Court in Bratislava in 2004. Miloš Kocúr and Milan Andrášik were sentenced to 15 years in prison, instead of 13; Stanislav Dúbravický got 12 years instead of 10. In December 2006, Andrášik and Kocúr returned to prison as a result of the verdict. They remain there to this day.