First, I’d like to briefly mention how the whole case evolved from the juridical point of view:
10 July 1973 – Olga Hepnarová is charged with a crime pursuant to § 179 subsection 1, 3 letter a)
9 January 1974 – The charge was reclassified to § 179 subsection 1, 2c, 3a
10 January 1974 – The City Prosecution in Prague issued an indictment based upon the aforementioned reclassification
18 January 1974 – The City Prosecutor abandoned the indictment pursuant to § 182 subsection 1 of criminal code
7 September 1974 – The City Prosecutor issued an indictment against Olga Hepnarová for committing a murder (both accomplished and attempted) pursuant to § 219. Based upon this indictment, she was sentenced to death on April 6, 1974.
24 June 1974 – By virtue of the resolution of the Supreme Court of ČSR, the mother’s appeal was dismissed and the death sentence upheld (without any further reclassification).
5 September 1974 – The Supreme Court of ČSSR issued a ruling, which, among other things, read: “the courts made a mistake when they classified the criminal act mentioned in Count 1 of the Prague City Court’s verdict as a murder (both accomplished and attempted) pursuant to § 219 ....... the criminal act which the indictee committed bore all the elements of a more severe offense of public endangerment (both accomplished and attempted) pursuant to § 179 ....... by classifying the criminal act in question as a murder ....... the courts omitted the fact that, by wittingly steering a heavy truck towards the pavement with the intention to kill as many people as possible, the indictee also exposed other people who were present at the crime scene to a possible risk of death ....... these people managed to escape their death only because they were able to quickly dodge the incoming vehicle, and also because of the fact that the vehicle then later stopped without any intentional intervention from the indictee. The indictee H., however, intended to kill these people as well, and this by committing an action which bore the elements of public endangerment offense .......
....... the fact that the indictee intentionally killed eight people by committing an action which bore the elements of public endangerment offense requires the applying of a stricter sentence range, as stated in § 179 subsection 3 letter a) of criminal code. Here, the sentence range also allows the imposition of death penalty or a sentence of longer imprisonment than in the case of a murder ....... if the perpetrator intentionally kills a person, he/she commits an act which bears the elements of a murder, as stated in § 219 of criminal code. Should he/she, however, intentionally (and with the same aim) expose people to a possible risk of death or grievous bodily harm, he/she commits an act of a more severe offense, as stated in § 179 subsection 1, 3 letter a) of criminal code .......
....... due to the aforementioned reasons, it is not possible to accept the legal opinion of the Supreme Court of ČSR expressed in the reasoning of the resolution which dismissed the appeal of the indictee’s mother, and where it is stated that the criminal act in question wasn’t that of public endangerment, because the indictee didn’t act knowing she could violate or threaten the interest that is protected by this particular §, and that she acted with clear and forethought intention to kill specific people ....... both § 179 and § 219, which classify the public endangerment and murder offenses respectively, protect the same public interest – i.e. the life and health of people. Therefore, to legally classify a criminal act as a public endangerment as stated in § 179 of criminal code, it is not decisive if the perpetrator exposed specific persons to a possible risk of death or grievous bodily harm, or if the number and identity of those persons were indefinite. After all, the conclusion of the Supreme Court of ČSR which states that, in the case in question, the perpetrator’s intention was to kill only specific people, contradicts with the evidence documentation, which implies that the criminal act in question was committed in an area with a very lively traffic and constant movement of pedestrians ....... therefore, the perpetrator couldn’t act with the intention to endanger the life of specific, predetermined people only (as is the case with a murder). In view of the aforementioned, the criminal act mentioned in Count 1 of the Prague City Court’s verdict should have been legally classified as a public endangerment offense ....... instead of being classified as a murder ....... this false classification, however, could not have had any bearing on the imposition of death penalty, because if the courts legally classified the criminal act in question correctly, they would bear in mind the fact that, aside from the persons namely mentioned in the City Court’s verdict, the perpetrator also exposed other people to a possible risk of death or grievous bodily harm. In the case of public endangerment offense ....... the sentence range is stricter than in the case of a murder ....... and, as in the case of a murder, also allows the imposition of death penalty.”
On April 2, 1974 at 8:15, the City Court in Prague led by its second highest ranking judge JUDr. Jan R. opened the main trial proceedings against Olga Hepnarová, who, as we already said, had been indicted from committing a murder as per § 219. The trial took place in a courtroom with a capacity of 80 seats, and allowed to attend were only the members of the so-called organized public (the employees of the Department of Justice, Attorney Generalship, members of the VB, and lay judges). The journalists were allowed to enter as well, but were forbidden to take any photos or shoot the trial on video. On this first day, the senate heard the defendant as well as read the testimonies of the witnesses from toxicology, Military Institute of Forensic Medicine in Central Military Hospital in Střešovice, Institute of Forensic Medicine from Faculty of General Medicine in Prague 2, and the testimonies of the expert witnesses from traffic field. As for the defendant’s testimony, it was more or less consistent with what she had already said in the preliminary proceedings. Once again, she repeatedly referred to herself as a person whom everybody is bullying (she used the German word “Prügelknabe”), and also admitted to preparing herself long enough for her crime whilst also contemplating of other ways of revenge. Same as in the preliminary proceedings, she once again proclaimed that she doesn’t feel any great regrets about the consequences of her actions. She also confessed to her attempt to burn down a family estate of her father in the Náchodsko region in 1970, which, at that particular time, housed three persons. The fire, however, was quickly noticed and extinguished.
The second day of the trial, on April 3, 1974, continued with the testimonies of the witnesses, persons who suffered injuries on July 10, 1973, and the presiding judge again read excerpts from some of the witnesses’ testimonies. Regarding the witnesses, these were the people who were in close contact with the defendant, either at her permanent or temporary address, and also the colleagues who worked with her in the past. Most of these people were already questioned in the preliminary proceedings, so during the trial, they once again testified (mostly) about their daily experiences with the defendant. Apart from them, the senate also heard the witnesses from the crime scene, i.e. the people who saw the events from the Obránců míru avenue. Among the witnesses, the senate also called in the doctor MUDr. P., who attended the first interrogation of the defendant shortly after she committed her crime, and who during the trial stated that, while in the interrogation room, he didn’t notice any great distress on her, viewing her as a mentally sane person. During this whole second day of the trial, there weren’t any disturbing events which would potentially disrupt the proceedings. Allowed to attend were also the public, but mainly the survivors or relatives of the victims.
The third day of the proceedings began on April 4, 1974 at 8:00. During the forenoon hours, the senate first heard the expert witnesses from psychiatry, psychology and sexology. With reference to their expert opinions, they deemed the defendant as mentally sane and as such fully responsible for her actions, whilst also diagnosing her with a sexual deviation (note: they used the term “lesbičanka“ instead of the now correct word „lesbička“). The presiding judge then read the protocols on the survivors’ testimonies, protocols on the inspection of the crime scenes, medical records of the survivors and victims, results of various kinds of expertise (graphological, toxicological, etc.), the correspondence between the defendant and Miroslav D. exchanged during the investigation, various personal records of the defendant, etc. In the afternoon, the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney then made their final pleas. Whilst the prosecutor recommended the maximum, capital punishment, the defendant’s attorney requested the senate to void the expert opinion of the expert witnesses from psychiatry, and this due to a procedural error stemming from the fact that the expert witnesses allowed to have their views approved by a collective of other doctors, and also because the defense could not agree with the conclusions of the expert witnesses regarding the mental sanity of the defendant. The presiding judge, however, dismissed the defense’s request, claiming that the same method of work had been successfully employed in some serious cases of murder in the past by the expert witnesses from the Psychiatric clinic in Prague 2, and it was never deemed as a procedural error. Further, the defendant’s attorney requested to change the legal classification of the crime from murder to public endangerment, as stated in the original indictment, claiming that the defendant’s intent wasn’t to kill specific people. The senate then offered the defendant Olga Hepnarová the chance for her final plea. In a somewhat lengthy speech, she basically appealed the today’s society to look for such oppressed people like her, gather them in a special place, and give them appropriate care, which, in the end, would prevent such crimes or actions as the one she committed to occur. In the end of her speech, she demanded a death penalty for herself. During the whole trial proceedings, the senate didn’t find any new facts which would contradict with the findings from the preliminary proceedings (i.e. from the investigation, examination of the defendant by the expert witnesses, etc.). The third day of the trial again didn’t see any disturbing actions from the public, and the courtroom was again filled to its capacity.
On April 5, 1974, the fourth day of the trial, the senate held a final meeting during which it consulted the requests from the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney.
The last day of the trial took place on April 6, 1974, with the final verdict of the senate being delivered at 11:15. It read: death penalty. In her closing speech, Olga Hepnarová briefly thanked the court and proclaimed that she won’t be appealing the verdict. The proceedings then finally concluded at 13:30 in the afternoon. There were many people wanting to attend this final day of the trial (aside from the ones who were allowed to do so), but since the court staff and VB took a number of precautionary measures, they were quickly expelled from the courtroom. This action, however, didn’t have any disturbing effect on the happenings in the courtroom and the whole proceedings went through with dignity.
So that was pretty much everything regarding the whole trial proceedings. The question remains why the prosecution repeatedly changed the legal classification of this crime. The most likely reason may be that, by legally classifying Olga Hepnarová’s crime as a murder, the authorities wanted to create a proper basis for imposition of the death penalty as well as its justification before the casual people. After all, in most cases, an ordinary citizen would associate the term “public endangerment” with something that was done unintentionally – like for example a traffic accident caused by a bus driver, etc. What also played a key role was the fact that the perpetrator was a young girl, so one could assume that certain part of the population would find the death penalty too harsh for her. As a matter of fact, a few days before Olga Hepnarová’s crime, a new, amended version of the criminal code came into effect, which, among other paragraphs, also amended the § 29 on exceptional sentence, where, in the added subsection 3, it allowed the courts to impose a sentence of up to 25 years.
ČSR – Česká socialistická republika; The Czech Socialist Republic
ČSSR – Československá socialistická republika; The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic
VB – Veřejná bezpečnost; Public Security Service