The first three months of 1974 marked perhaps the most uneventful time in the entire Olga Hepnarová’s stay in prison. So far, there was no evidence of anything “out of ordinary” that may’ve happened with her during her imprisonment. The investigation (and with it also the examination of the expert witnesses) concluded in December 1973, after which Olga had been moved from the Ruzyně prison to Pankrác. Once in the new prison, she borrowed a copy of criminal code from the prison library and began to prepare herself for her defense speech. Hence, the only notable exception that somehow broke the monotonous nature of these days was her complaint sent to the prosecutor overseeing the custody on January 21, 1974. In the complaint, Olga remarked about poor heating of the cells (allegedly, they were heated only from 6:00 to 14:00) and also wrote that “if the prisoner is moved from one prison to another, it takes more than a month to transfer his account, which subsequently leaves him without any money during the aforementioned time”. She also complained on several other things, with her cellmate signing the complaint as well. Up until that point, her behavior (more or less) didn’t demonstrate anything unusual, and there wasn’t any incident reported.
After the first three quiet months then came the eventful month of April, which included almost weeklong and psychically very demanding trial proceedings that concluded with a fatal verdict of death penalty. As I’ve already written, there’s currently no available document which would somehow tell us how Olga spent the rest of the Saturday and the following Sunday after the delivering of the verdict. Nevertheless, Monday brought another special and very emotional moment for her, as she was visited by her mother – the first time these two saw each other in more than nine months. What they talked about during these 15 allowed minutes isn’t known, but it’s fairly safe to suppose that the mother tried to convince Olga to go forward with the appeal at the Supreme Court of ČSR – same as her attorney JUDr. O. T. did on his next visit.
Just before the end of May 1974, i.e. prior to the planned hearing of the Supreme Court of ČSR, an incident occurred. When in the cell, Olga physically assaulted two of her inmates, causing them minor facial injuries. When the SNV staff intervened, she began to verbally insult them (yelling at them that they’re “social outcasts”) and also threw over the desk. The situation eventually became so serious that the staff had to use a baton in order to finally pacify her. This incident certainly didn’t please her attorney JUDr. T., who, however, had another thing to worry about – Olga became more and more convinced that her true father isn’t named Hepnar but Winifer, and as such, she’s not Hepnarová but Winiferová.
On June 24, 1974, the Supreme Court of ČSR issued a resolution which dismissed the mother’s appeal of the City Court’s verdict as well as the attorney’s request for new expert opinion. This also meant that the City Court’s verdict from April 6, 1974 acquired the force of res judicata, which effectively changed Olga’s status from indicted person to a convicted one. Following these events, the mother and the attorney began to take further legal actions – they filled an appeal for mercy and also began to prepare the request for renewal of the proceedings.
The end of August 1974 saw another incident when Olga again verbally insulted one of the on-duty SNV members, vulgarly asking him to light her a cigarette. When warned to stop the insults, she began to vandalize the cell, tore apart all the books, and started filling the cell with water. When the SNV member intervened, she threw her slippers at him and again insulted him verbally. In view of these events, the prison authorities decided to place her in a new cell, but to no avail, as the situation again remained the same. On the following day, she was visited by her attorney JUDr. T., who, according to his own words, found her in a “state of acute psychosis”. She practically didn’t communicate with him at all, and also strongly rejected the eagerly awaited package which the attorney brought with him. According to prison records, she remained in this state for several days, but it’s more likely that this significant change in her psyche had a permanent character, with only few temporary improvements visible. According to the records, her aggressiveness became more and more apparent with time, which was de facto corroborated by the words of her attorney JUDr. T., who, after visiting her month later, evaluated her behavior again as a state of acute psychosis.
The uneasiness of the whole situation became quite evident in the preparations that preceded the planned session between Olga and the female prison psychiatrist V. H. – Olga arrived at the session accompanied by two SNV members, she and the psychiatrist had to be separated by two desks, and during the entire session, there was a guard standing between them, ready to intervene in case something went wrong. And it did, as Olga, despite being clearly outnumbered, twice attempted to “fight through” the guards, wanting to escape. The beginning of the session didn’t promise a happy ending as Olga had a very “unfriendly” look on her face and reacted negatively to psychiatrist’s presence. Eventually, she did start answering her questions, although very reluctantly and somewhat confusedly. She stated that “she’s aware of being in prison, but only since September. ... ... She maintains that her true name is Winiferová, doesn’t feel guilty of any wrongdoing, and also denies of having any trial. ... ... She’s doing well, doesn’t have any worries, eats well, and thus doesn’t see any reason for the psychiatrist’s visit at all.” When asked further questions by the psychiatrist, she began replying with “I don’t know”, later, she stopped answering them completely. Suddenly, she fell into a hysterical affect compounded by aggression towards the psychiatrist. She threw over the desks and violently tore off a page from the documentation on the trial proceedings which the psychiatrist brought with her at the session, “angrily wrinkling it”. Consequently, she tried to tear up the psychiatrist’s notes as well. When the supervising guard intervened and tried to push her against the wall, she spat at him. Lastly, with the help of the remaining personnel and using coercive means, the guard managed to pacify her using the handcuffs. In her report, the doctor MUDr. V. H. then evaluated this behavior as deliberate, deeming it not as a symptom of a mental disorder but instead as a sign of the convict’s animosity to doctors, especially psychiatrists. This conclusion, however, somewhat contradicted with what had happened a few days later when Olga had been examined by two psychiatrists who elaborated the earlier (i.e. original) expert opinion. The examination served as a main knowledge basis for the addition to their expert witness’ opinion (which was decisive for the eventual granting or declining of the request for renewal of the proceedings), and according to prison records, it occurred without any serious incidents. The statements which Olga made during the examination, however, greatly differed from her testimonies recorded during her previous examinations by the forensic psychiatrists. She practically refused to admit that her true identity can bear any other name than Winiferová. She would tell the doctors about her father Winifer, who “often visits her in prison to have a chat with her”. She would also reveal them how she had to visit various offices in order to finally assure herself that her true father is indeed named Winifer. According to her, the crime had been committed by Hepnarová, but the one who’ll be punished for it is her – Winiferová. For one moment, though, she had indeed identified herself with the person of Olga Hepnarová – she admitted that she’s recalling the events with the truck, however, she “had been acting on someone else’s orders and hence is forbidden to talk about it”. No matter how weird these words may’ve sounded, the conclusions of the expert witnesses after this examination, however, remained the same. According to them, the convict’s “observed delusions and hallucinations are not symptoms of a mental disease, but instead, they are caused by the convict’s feigning of the disease corroborated by the presence of the so-called compulsive lying (pseudologia phantastica)”, so in view of the aforementioned, they upheld the conclusions presented in their original expert opinion.
Concurrently with these events, several other procedures were taking place. On the eve of autumn 1974, the Supreme Court of ČSSR issued a resolution which upheld the original verdict of death sentence. Olga’s mother then requested for another visit of her daughter, but her request was denied by the presiding judge of the Prague’s City Court. Consequently, Olga Hepnarová had been transferred to death row. As for the attorney JUDr. T., he was finding it increasingly difficult to communicate with his client as the time went by. As a graduated psychologist, he obviously wasn’t oblivious to the continuous changes in Olga’s psyche (he was firmly convinced that Olga was indeed suffering from a mental disorder, he mentioned this in his letter addressed to the Supreme Court of ČSSR, where he remarked on the symptoms of pathological behavior displayed by Olga and also the development of pathological mechanisms that could have been directly related to various important psychopathological circumstances decisive for determining her mental sanity). All his efforts, however, proved futile in the end, so it’s no surprise that, in view of these events, he eventually resigned and on December 5, 1974 abandoned the request for renewal of the proceedings. According to various sources, he undertook this decision with a very heavy heart, viewing it as his own personal defeat. December 5, 1974 also marked the last time when he and Olga Hepnarová saw each other.
It is difficult to judge how greatly this setback affected Olga – if it even affected her at all – as December 1974 marked further change of her mental state – unfortunately for the worse. The initially sparse incidents had meanwhile become almost a daily occurrence, and its severity de facto proved that Olga, at that time, was slowly but surely losing her last touches with the reality. Since it all continued in January 1975 as well, it prompted the superior organs from the ministry of justice to task the SNV administration with an immediate review of her health status (note: in my opinion, the ministry of justice tried to rush things up in order to prevent any possible complications that may’ve resulted from Olga’s behavior; after all, the exact date of the execution was due to be announced very soon). The examination occurred under the auspices of Health service of the SNV administration, and performing it were a psychiatrist and an internist. To get a better view of her mental and physical condition during these last days, we can read the following passages inscribed in her medical records: physical examination – “determining of medical history wasn’t possible due to absolute lack of cooperation displayed by the examined individual ....... reacts negatively to the examination, doesn’t answer the questions, turns her head away ....... when asked repeatedly, she again doesn’t answer ....... intense tremor on acral parts of the body ....... visible swaying of the body when in standing position” psychiatric examination – “after being escorted to the examining room by the guard, she obeyed the doctor’s invitation and sat down ....... during the examination, she remained sitting, at times biting her nails or cuddling with her hair ....... didn’t speak during the entire examination ....... when the doctor tried to communicate with her by asking her questions via written messages, she wrote a reply ....... sometimes, the replies were adequate, sometimes, they were incorrect (the current date, the date of her birth) ....... allegedly, she doesn’t feel any pain, but at the same time feels ill ....... when asked to specify the illness, she wrote sch. – but you know, what that means ....... later, she asked for a cigarette, writing her request on paper”.
Consequently, the last administrative procedures surrounding this case were taking place. Already on December 5, 1974 – i.e. the first day of the planned hearing of the Prague’s City Court on the request for renewal of the proceedings – the minister of justice sent the Office of the President his report, detailedly describing the whole case whilst also recommending to not grant the pardon. Right after the New Year’s Day, on January 2, 1975, he then sent the president another letter consisting of four densely written pages, where he submitted him the data pertaining to the convict’s request for pardon and again recommended him to decline it. In the letter, however, he also wrote the following: “given the nature of the crime, the manner in which it was committed, and its consequences, the final verdict of death penalty is in full accordance with the law. When deciding on the request for pardon, however, we also have to take into account circumstances beyond the scope of the law, last but not least because the eventual resocialization of the convict hadn’t been completely ruled out, but only deemed as difficult”. He also suspected that the public opinion on the verdict may differ, stating: “to execute a 22-year old woman is a debatable decision, even if she had committed such heinous act like the convicted Hepnarová“. In the end of his letter, he asked the president for a definite decision. Two weeks later, he then followed up his letter with a two-page addendum.
In early 1975, the president of ČSSR was temporarily unable to perform his duties due to an illness. As such, he was substituted by the prime minister of ČSSR. It took him more than three months to finally come to a decision. A decision to finally decline the request for pardon. That was on Monday; on Friday, the presiding judge of the City Court in Prague wrote up the Order on carrying out the death sentence and sent it via courier to Pankrác prison. Back came the news announcing the date of the execution was set for Wednesday, March 12, 1973.
ČSR – Česká socialistická republika; The Czech Socialist Republic
ČSSR – Československá socialistická republika; The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
SNV – Sbor nápravné výchovy; Correctional Education Corps