Slovakia court tosses acquittals in reporter's slaying

Defendant Marian Kocner, center left, and his lawyer Marek Para sit at the Supreme Court in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Slovakia’s appeals court has dismissed a lower court verdict that acquitted a businessman accused of masterminding the 2018 slayings of an investigative journalist who had written about him and the journalist’s fiancee. The verdict by Slovakia’s Supreme Court means that the case now returns to the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok that ruled in September to clear the businessman, Marian Kocner, and one co-defendant of murder in the killings of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, both 27. (Jaroslav Novak/TASR via AP)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a lower court’s acquittal of a businessman accused of masterminding the 2018 slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancée.

A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court said the criminal court did not properly assess available evidence when it cleared businessman Marian Kocner and one co-defendant of murder in the killings of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, both 27.

The judges said the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok evaluated the evidence without applying “elementary logic” in some instances and failed to consider it at all in others. They sent the case back to the lower court and ordered it to deal with all the objections. A date for the retrial has not been set.

“The suffering of the parents and dear ones of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova is not over ye,t but they’re a step closer to justice,” Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova said after the panel issued its ruling..

Kusnirova’s mother, Zlatica Kusnirova, said, “I have mixed feelings, but I’m glad that justice won.”

A Specialized Criminal Court judge said when the acquittals were handed down in September that there was not enough evidence for the convictions. A third defendant was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Within hours, prosecutors appealed the verdicts to the country’s Supreme Court.

Kuciak was shot in the chest and Kusnirova was shot in the head at their home in the town of Velka Maca, east of Bratislava, on Feb. 21, 2018. Kocner had allegedly threatened the journalist following publication of a story about his business dealings. In total, Kuciak published nine stories about the businessman.

Kuciak filed a complaint over the alleged threats in 2017 and had claimed that police failed to act on it. He had been investigating possible government corruption when he was killed.

Two other defendants previously were convicted and sentenced. Former soldier Miroslav Marcek pleaded guilty to shooting Kuciak and Kusnirova and was sentenced to 23 years in prison in April 2020. Prosecutors alleged Kocner paid Marcek to carry out the killings.

In the meantime, Kocner was sentenced to 19 years in prison in January in a separate forgery case. The verdict in that case is final.

The couple’s deaths prompted major street protests unseen since the 1989 anti-Communist Velvet Revolution and a political crisis that led to the collapse of Slovakia’s government.

Slovakia’s prosecutor general, Maros Zilinka, described Tuesday’s ruling as “an important moment for justice and the rule of law.”

Judge Peter Paluda said the detailed written decision of the three-judge panel might not be published until the end of July.