Jock Palfreeman Pins Appeal Hopes on Statement ConflictsViews on BG | November 12, 2010, Friday // 09:50| views
Jock Palfreeman was convicted last year of stabbing 20-year-old law student Andrei Monov to death in a drunken street clash but he has insisted he acted in self defence after going to the aid of two Roma. Photo by BGNES
Peter Wilson, Sofia
A Bulgarian appeals court last night confirmed there were discrepancies in evidence that helped to convict young Australian Jock Palfreeman of a 2007 murder.
Palfreeman's father, Simon, conceded last night that the comments by the appeals court judges fell a long way short of guaranteeing Palfreeman's conviction and 20-year sentence would be reviewed but he said the development was still a positive sign.
"It is a step in the right direction because we are getting confirmation now that the (murder) trial was deeply flawed," Dr Palfreeman said.
Jock Palfreeman was convicted last year of stabbing 20-year-old law student Andrei Monov to death in a drunken street clash but he has insisted he acted in self defence after going to the aid of two Roma, or gypsies, who he says were being beaten by Monov and more than a dozen friends.
Some neutral witnesses back Palfreeman's claim about the attack on the Roma but the court that convicted Palfreeman last year said there was no evidence of such an initial attack.
In last night's hearing, a Bulgarian policeman, Peter Katsarov, stood by a statement he gave five weeks after the stabbing in which he said he had been told by other police at the scene that there had been an attack on some Roma and that Palfreeman had gone to their aid.
In last year's murder trial, Mr Katsarov had dropped any reference to the Roma and he said last night that would have been because he had forgotten the details with the passage of time.
Antoan Zahariev, a 23-year-old friend of Monov who was also stabbed and wounded in the clash with Palfreeman, was also called to give evidence last night about discrepancies in his trial evidence.
Zahariev made a sworn police statement on the day of the attack saying that just before Palfreeman confronted his group of friends in the early hours of December 28, 2007, "there was already a fight between some of my friends and some other people. I believe they were gypsies, but I'm not sure."
Five weeks later, Mr Zahariev gave a second police statement backpedalling on the reference to an initial fight saying it was only "an exchange of remarks and swear words".
"The two boys, once they saw that there were a lot of us and we were walking towards them, ran away (and) we chased them for a while," he said.
When Mr Zahariev gave evidence in the trial, he said: "I don't remember there being gypsies, Roma people or other people before or after the incident."
Asked about that discrepancy last night, Mr Zahariev said he must have been still in shock when he gave his initial version of events and he was now confident that there had been no physical clash with anybody before Palfreeman suddenly confronted his group wielding a knife.
Three other witnesses who had similar discrepancies between their initial statements and trial evidence failed to appear in court last night so the matter was adjourned for two weeks to allow efforts to find those witnesses, including two former police officers.
Further appeals to a higher court are likely, either from Palfreeman or the victim's parents, who are seeking a tougher sentence of life without parole.
Krassimir Kanev, the head of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the nation's most active human rights group, insisted yesterday the initial finding that Palfreeman had single-handedly attacked Monov's group in an unprovoked way "is simply not plausible".
"It doesn't make sense that a foreigner who has come here on holidays would for no reason just pull out a knife and single-handedly attack a group of 14 or 15 men in the street," he told The Australian.
"The Bulgarian criminal justice system does not deal well with cases where there is an element of racism," he said, pointing to US and EU criticism of the legal system's treatment of Roma.
"The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Bulgarian courts in the past for not reacting properly to cases of racist violence.
"To conclude that this was a premeditated murder rather than excessive self defence means the police and prosecutors and judges disregarded the evidence that there had been an attack on some Roma."
The police did not seek CCTV footage or witnesses who might have confirmed the attack on the Roma which would have put a different complexion on the subsequent violence, Dr Kanev said.
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