Finland: Dane acquitted in 1987 ferry attack on backpackers

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By JARI TANNER Associated Press

HELSINKI (AP) – In one of Finland’s oldest unsolved criminal cases, a Finnish court on Wednesday acquitted a 52-year-old Dane on murder charges and attempted murder for the attack on two young German backpackers on a ferry in the Baltic Sea more than 30 years ago.

Klaus Schelkle, 20, was killed and his girlfriend, 22, Bettina Taxis, seriously injured in a brutal attack while sleeping on the outer deck of the Viking Sally en route from Stockholm in Sweden to the port Finnish from Turku in July 1987.

An unidentified Dane, seen in the center in a blue suit, appears in court charged with the murder and attempted murder of a German couple aboard the Viking Sally ferry in the summer of 1987, in Turku, Finland on May 24 2021. In one of the oldest unsolved high-profile criminal cases in Finland, a Finnish court acquitted on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 a 52-year-old Dane accused of the murder and attempted murder of two young German backpackers on board a a Baltic Sea ferry almost 34 years ago. (Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva via AP)

The crime took place in Finnish waters near the archipelago of the Aland Islands. The ship was then sold and renamed, and sank seven years later with heavy loss of life in one of Europe’s worst peacetime maritime accidents.

After decades of investigation, Finnish police concluded last year that the Dane, at the time an 18-year-old boy scout traveling to an international jamboree in Finland and who was the first to arrive on the scene to help the victims , was the prime suspect. in the complex case.

The man denied all charges during the week-long trial that ended in late May. He was not taken into custody and returned to Denmark.

The district court based in Turku, western Finland, said prosecutors “had failed to prove that the accused … was the only person who had the opportunity and the opportunity to commit the crimes in question “.

The court also stressed that the murder weapon had never been found, claiming that “the accused did not have such knowledge of the murder weapon that only the perpetrator could have”.

Prosecutors alleged the man had previously confessed to committing the crime and were seeking a life sentence for him. They claimed the Dane gave such a detailed account of events during the investigation and media interviews that it was impossible that he was simply a foreigner who had just arrived at the scene first.

According to Danish and Finnish media, the man has a criminal record, including prison terms for armed robbery and illegal possession of weapons. In April, Danish tabloid BT reported that he sent threatening messages to his ex-wife in 2015-16 and bragged about committing unspecified murders.

However, the Finnish court rejected the alleged confession in its decision.

“The accused did not confess to being guilty of the crimes in such a way that his guilt would be considered proven or even probable,” the court said.

Arriving in court, an unidentified Dane, seen in a blue suit, is charged with the murder and attempted murder of a German couple aboard the Viking Sally ferry in the summer of 1987, in Turku, Finland on May 24. 2021. In one of the oldest unresolved high-profile criminal cases in Finland, a Finnish court acquitted on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 a 52-year-old Dane accused of the murder and attempted murder of two young German backpackers on board of a Baltic Sea ferry for almost 34 years since. (Roni Lehti / Lehtikuva via AP)

Martina Kronstrom, the Danish lawyer in Finland, told The Associated Press that her client was relieved and “very happy and satisfied with the outcome”. She said he “wasn’t too worried because he had complete faith in the legal system.”

“You would expect that if you file a complaint after 33 years, you would actually have a lot to do,” Kronstrom said. “Something new, something you can actually use and what you can use to get a verdict. In this case, we could quite easily see that there is no such thing. There were stories from our client that were the only real new thing they had. But that’s not enough in a murder case.

Kronstrom said she saw “very little room for an appeal” of the verdict from prosecutors, who did not comment on the court’s decision.

The Germans were flown from the ferry to a hospital in Turku where Schelkle was pronounced dead. The taxis survived but had no memory of the assault. Prosecutors said the weapon used was a hammer-type tool that was apparently stolen from the ferry and thrown overboard by the assailant.

Viking Sally was then sold to an Estonian shipping company and sailed under the name M / S Estonia. The ferry then sank in the Baltic Sea between the Baltic nation’s capital, Tallinn, and Stockholm in September 1994, killing 852.

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Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen contributed from Copenhagen, Denmark and video journalist David Keyton from Stockholm, Sweden.


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