One more try
On Saturday April 6, 1974, the City Court in Prague sentenced Olga Hepnarová to death. Currently, there isn’t any existing document which would somehow tell us how she spent the rest of the day (the trial proceedings concluded at 13:30) or the following Sunday. Be it one way or another, Monday was a very special day for her as she had a visit. The only one during her entire stay in prison (or, to be exact, the only “civil” one) – she was visited by her mother. The visit took about 15 minutes, and it’s not that hard for us to imagine the manner in which this whole meeting had transpired. That is: it was the mother who did the most of the talking, most likely consoling Olga whilst also promising her to fight for the change of the verdict, and most importantly, urging her to do the same, pleading her to join her attorney in his effort to amend the verdict, which, if successful, would allow her to continue her living – albeit behind the bars.
Although this section is entitled “One more try”, there were actually several tries to save the life of Olga Hepnarová undertaken by her mother and her attorney. First and foremost, in May 1974, they appealed the City Court’s verdict at the Supreme Court of ČSR. In the reasoning of the appeal, the mother mentioned several shortcomings like the expert witnesses’ reluctance to question certain important witnesses, various flaws in their expert opinion and also the investigators’ rather superficial approach during her questioning.
At the end of June 1974, the Supreme Court of ČSR then held a hearing, and on June 24, 1974, it issued a resolution which dismissed the appeal, deeming it as unfounded. This also meant that, on the very same day, the City Court’s verdict from April 6, 1974 acquired the force of res judicata (i.e. it could not be appealed anymore).
In August of the same year, the attorney JUDr. T., on behalf of Olga Hepnarová and her mother, pleaded the president of ČSSR for mercy. He also repeatedly urged his client to request the renewal of the proceedings. Lastly, after few tries (and rather complicated negotiating), the request was put forth in front of the City Court on September 30, 1974. Thus, both sides began to prepare for new hearing, which, however, in the end didn’t take place, as on December 5, 1974, the defense abandoned their request shortly before the hearing was about to begin. Here, it’s worth of mentioning how visibly the attorney JUDr. T. felt his disappointment over the events that preceded this move…
In the beginning of September 1974, the Supreme Court of ČSSR held a hearing which had to review the legitimacy of the City Court’s verdict as well as the legitimacy of the resolution of the Supreme Court of ČSR on the mother’s and attorney’s appeal. It was a procedure necessary whenever there was a death sentence levied against the perpetrator. To this same court, the attorney JUDr. T. also addressed his views on the current mental state of his client (more on that in the section “The final”).
On September 5, 1974, the Supreme Court of ČSSR then issued a resolution, which could be roughly summed up as follows:
- the Supreme Court of ČSSR did not find the verdict of the City Court in Prague from April 6, 1974 that sentenced Olga Hepnarová to death for committing a murder and property damage offense as unlawful with respect to the imposition of death penalty
- likewise, the Supreme Court of ČSSR deemed the resolution of the Supreme Court of ČSR that dismissed the mother’s and attorney’s appeal as thoroughly lawful. The lower instance courts, however, made a mistake in legal classification of the criminal act which they sentenced the defendant to death for, so the Supreme Court of ČSSR retroactively changed its legal classification to public endangerment offense. After a rather lengthy juridical reasoning of this move, the text ends with a conclusion that the aforementioned false classification didn’t have any impact on the legitimacy of the death sentence.
- the Supreme Court of ČSSR approved the conclusions of the lower instance courts regarding the meeting of one of the requirements that were necessary for the imposition of death penalty (i.e. effective protection of the society, which requires the aforementioned, capital punishment)
- in view of the young age of the convict and her positive attitude towards work, the Supreme Court of ČSSR, however, could not prove the meeting of the second condition that was necessary for the imposition of death penalty (that is: the perpetrator can’t be corrected by a prison sentence of 15 years; here, I’d like to mention that, by the time this resolution was issued, a new, amended criminal code was already in effect, which allowed the courts to impose a sentence of up to 25 years), and this is not evident even in the conclusions of the expert witnesses from psychology and psychiatry, who in their expert opinion mention rather limited possibilities with regards to a possible resocialization of the convict
- in order for the courts to impose a death penalty, however, it is sufficient if the perpetrator meets just the first of these two conditions. Therefore, the Supreme Court of ČSSR came to a conclusion that, despite all of the aforementioned legal shortcomings, the courts did not commit any such violations of the law that would have had an impact on the imposition of death penalty.
Finally, to make this section complete, we should also mention that, on March 3, 1975, the prime minister of ČSSR L. Š., who, at that time, substituted the then ill president of the republic, denied the plea for mercy (more about that in one of the other sections of this site), so whatever chance there was to save the life of Olga Hepnarová, it had effectively vanished…
ČSR – Česká socialistická republika; The Czech Socialist Republic
ČSSR – Československá socialistická republika; The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic