Crime in Novska

A trial was conducted before the War Crime Council of the Sisak County Court against Branislav Mišćević and Željko Vrljanović, charged with a war crime against civilians, described and punishable pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZ RH). The public session of the Supreme Court of the RoC was held on 13 October 2009. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia fully upheld the first instance verdict.
On 22 December 2010, the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court held its session (in the third instance in respect of the defendant Mišćević). We are still not familiar with the decision.

 
INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)

The defendants are charged that on 19 March 1993 in Novska, as members of a sabotage group which was operating within the reconnaissance and sabotage squad of the 54th infantry brigade of the 18th corps of the Republic of Srpska Krajina Military, together with members of that group Ljubinko Bijelić and Dragan Knežević, wearing Croatian military (HV) uniforms and armed with automatic guns of the ”Scorpion” brand, from the temporarily occupied area of Novsko Brdo, walking down the forest path towards the town of Novska, in the area called ”Samar” in Alberta Knoppa Street, they entered the family house owned by the Grgić family where they killed Stjepan Grgić, deputy commander of the temporary unit of the Novska Homeguard Company, his wife Tomislava Grgić and their children Ivan Grgić and Anamarija Grgić. Having committed the murder, they searched the house and found the keys of a personal car of the ”Isuzu” brand and drove it away to the temporarily occupied area of Okučani,

therefore, by violating the rules of the international law during an armed conflict, they killed civilian population, whereby they committed a criminal act against humanity and international law – war crime against civilians – described and punishable pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH.
GENERAL DATA

Sisak County Court

War Crime Council: Judge Snježana Mrkoci, Council President; Judge Predrag Jovanić, Council member, Judge Alenka Lešić, Council member

Prosecuting attorney: Marijan Zgurić, Sisak County Deputy State’s Attorney

Defence counsels:

for the 1st defendant, Luka Šušak, a lawyer practising in Zagreb
for the 2nd defendant, Zorko Kostanjšek, a lawyer practising in Sisak and Veljko Miljević, a lawyer practising in Zagreb

Victims: killed members of the Grgić family: Stjepan Grgić, Tomislava Grgić, Ivan Grgić, Anamarija Grgić
MONITORING REPORTS

NOVSKA monitoring reports (in Croatian)

VERDICT

On 24 October 2008 the verdict was published by which the 1st defendant Branislav Miščević was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The 2nd defendant Željko Vrljanović was acquitted of charges.

The public session of the Supreme Court of the RoC was held on 13 October 2009. You can see the report from the public session here. (in Croatian)
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia fully upheld the first instance verdict.
You can see the verdict of the Supreme Court here (in Croatian).

On 22 December 2010, the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court held its session (in the third instance in respect of the defendant Mišćević). We are still not familiar with the decision.

OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM AFTER THE FIRST INSTANCE PROCEEDINGS

The criminal proceedings for the killing of the Grgić family, the spouses and their two underage children, which was performed in the shape of execution from point blank, were initiated 13 years after the crime was committed.

The severity and brutality of the crime require the most stringent punishment for all perpetrators of that crime.

The Court Council had a demanding task of establishing the facts and passing a decision with regard to the fact that there were no direct eyewitnesses of the crime, one of the key witnesses denied the testimony provided during the investigation, while another witness clarified that he was not referring to the defendant Vrljanović during the investigation but to another person. The Court was informed that unknown persons had exposed this witness to threats.

Precisely because of that, when passing a verdict (both in the sentencing and in the acquitting section) on the basis of circumstantial evidence, the Court is obliged to clearly explain the established facts.

The Court Council established that the defendant Branislav Miščević, together with members of his group, including Ljubinko Bijelić “Tolobić” and Dragan Kovačević “Toša”, liquidated members of the Grgić family by firing gunshots in the back of their heads and stole their personal car, whereby they committed a war crime against civilians. The defendant Miščević was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Due to lack of evidence, Željko Vrljanović was acquitted of charges that he had committed the criminal act with which he was charged in the indictment.

In the course of the proceedings, the defence insisted on obtaining the case file in the criminal proceedings which were, according to the defence, conducted against Dean Milić in 1993 before the Zagreb Military Court for the same event for which the defendants Miščević and Vrljanović were tried in this procedure. However, having obtained the case file, which clearly did not pertain to the incriminating event, the Court did not accept the defence’s request for re-obtaining the case file.

If the Supreme Court of the RoC deems that the facts in this procedure were correctly established, we deem it necessary to process all perpetrators of the crime against the Grgić family, which will require cooperation with prosecution bodies of the Republic of Serbia.

Explanation

The criminal proceedings against Branislav Miščević and Željko Vrljanović were initiated 13 years after the commission of the crime with which they were charged in the indictment. The investigating request dated 31 March 2006 was directed against the following 7 (seven) persons: Jure Šajatović, Milenko Bajić, Živko Kragujević, Branislav Miščević, Ljubinko Bijelić, Dragan Knežević and Željko Vrljanović. The indictment was issued against Branislav Miščević and Željko Vrljanović who became available to the judicial bodies of the Republic of Croatia. Branislav Miščević, without citizenship, with refugee status in Serbia, was extradited to Croatia from Serbia, while Željko Vrljanović, citizen of the U.S.A., was arrested in Germany pursuant to the international warrant and extradited to Croatia.

The first instance court deems that, on the basis of presented evidence, it was established that Branislav Miščević took part in the liquidation of the 4-member Grgić family and that his actions contain all essential characteristics of the criminal act of war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison (maximum prison sentence). Due to lack of evidence, Željko Vrljanović was acquitted of charges pursuant to Article 354, item 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

The Court, without interfering with the content of the indictment, intervened in the factual substratum made by the prosecuting attorney by way of aligning it with the established facts since, according to the court’s assessment, it was not established beyond reasonable doubt during the procedure that the subject criminal act was committed upon the order issued by Jure Šajatović, Milenko Bajić, Živko Kragujević and an unknown 1st class JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) captain, thus the Court omitted these allegations from the actual description of the criminal act for which it found Branislav Miščević guilty.

Upon the Council’s decision, seven witnesses were directly heard during the evidence procedure, while the testimonies of six other witnesses were read. Public was excluded from the main hearing during the questioning of the witness Milan Mirolović for the purpose of protecting his personal and family life, in compliance with the provisions of the ZKP. The Department for Support to Victims and Witnesses in Criminal Proceedings and Proceedings for Criminal Acts of War Crime suggested to exclude the public. The Court was informed that unknown persons had exposed this witness to threats.

The Court based the sentencing part of the verdict on the testimonies of three witnesses – Dušan Grbić (provided during the investigation procedure, when directly questioned at the main hearing he denied the testimony provided during the investigation), Milan Mirolović and Milka Pavković.

From the testimonies of witnesses Dušan Grbić and Milan Mirolović, the Court established that, on the critical day, 19 March 1993, around 16:00 or 17:00 hours, pursuant to the orders received, these persons were securing the area near the village of Paklenica, whereby members of Branislav Miščević’s group turned left in the direction of Novska, Čedo Relić’s group went in the opposite direction while their group stayed on that same place. On that occasion, Miščević’s group was carrying short weapons, the so-called “scorpions”, and the witness Mirolović stated that they had silencers and Croatian Military uniforms. They heard that those persons, upon return, drove a personal car – a jeep that broke down on the way, so that Milan Pavković was pulling it by a tractor. Only on the third day they heard that the Grgić family had been killed.

Witness Dušan Grbić stated that “Tolobić”, Vrljanović, “Toša” and Vujkovac also went with Miščević in the direction of Novska. He said that “Tolobić” came after 24:00 hours from the direction of Novska wearing Croatian Military uniform and said that he needed a tractor. He attempted to reach Jure Šajatović by Motorola, but could not reach him, so he called Mišo Bajić and asked him to get Milan Pavković to come to the forest with a tractor. A day or two days later, he heard that Miščević, “Tolobić” and “Toša” were fixing a jeep. He heard that, apart from the jeep, they also seized money and Croatian Military uniforms, and that they needed a tractor because the car broke down on the way.

Witness Mirolović said that on the incriminating day around 16:00 hours Miščević was in the company of “Tolobić”, “Toša” and “Vrči”.

Witness Milka Pavković confirmed the allegations of the witness that during one evening in 1993 her husband Milan Pavković was called to come with his tractor to pull out some vehicle that got stuck. Jure Šajatović and Milenko Bajić came to pick him up that night wearing Croatian uniforms. Her husband told her that first he thought it was a vehicle that was stolen somewhere, and when he found out what they had done, he went to the command centre which was located in Rajići and told them everything, because of which his family had problems afterwards. Her husband also told her that he had learned from Marko Vladić, who passed away in the meantime, that a person with the nickname of “Toša”, for whom he thinks his name was Dragan Knežević, was a member of the group that killed members of the Grgić family.

Having sublimated the aforementioned testimonies, the Court established that it was precisely the defendant Branislav Miščević, with his reconnaissance and sabotage group which undoubtedly comprised Ljubinko Bijelić aka “Tolobić” and Dragan Knežević aka “Toša”, who committed the incriminating criminal act because, as the Court explained, on the incriminating occasion the defendant drove a jeep for which it is reasonable to assume that it belonged to the Grgić family, since it was driven on that critical night to the position of the “SAO Krajina” Military, and none of the witnesses confirmed the defendant’s defence that UNPROFOR gave them this vehicle at disposal, whereby witnesses state that there were rumours going around that this car was sold in Belgrade, while witness Slavomir Solomon stated that the deceased Stjepan Grgić had a jeep at that time.

From the minutes on the on-site investigation and photo elaborate, it ensues that the killing of the Grgić family was committed on 19 March 1993 in their house in Novska. The Court, having linked the undisputable date of the killing of members of the Grgić family with the event described by witnesses Grbić and Mirolović (they spoke about March 1993), obviously determined the exact date of commission of the criminal act. However, in the explanation of the verdict, the Court stated that “… from the testimonies of witnesses Dušan Grbić and Milan Mirolović who testified during the investigation and witness Mirolović who confirmed that testimony at the main hearing, that on the day in question, 19 March 1993 around 16:00 or 17:00 hours, they were tasked with ….”, although the aforementioned witnesses never spoke about the exact date when the event which they described took place.

The Court concluded that the defendant, when performing the criminal act, acted with premeditation, motivated by ethnic intolerance towards the citizens of Croatian ethnicity, which ultimately resulted in the killing of 4 civilians, including two children aged 14 and 5, on which occasion each victim, prior to liquidation, was forced to look how their closest family members were killed. The Court did not explain the grounds on which it passed the conclusion that the crime was motivated by ethnic intolerance.

By explaining the acquitting section of the verdict, the Court stated that the defendant Vrljanović defended himself by stating that, at the incriminating time, he was in Banja Luka, which was confirmed by his then-girlfriend and current wife Dragana Vrljanović and her sister Daliborka Potajac, and that prior to the critical event he was transferred to the mortar unit, which was confirmed by witnesses Dušan Sutara and Milorad Tešanović.

Witness Mirolović clarified at the main hearing that the person with the nickname “Vrči”, whom he mentioned in the investigation, was actually Željko Mostarac, and not Željko Vrljanović who has the nickname “Vrljo”. Witnesses Dušan Grbić, Dragana Vrljanović and Daliborka Potajac also stated that the defendant’s nickname was “Vrljo”.

The Court assessed the testimony of witness Nikola Polimac, who stated during the investigation that the defendant Vrljanović personally told him that, together with the defendant Miščević, he had participated in the liquidation, as non -convincing.

In the acquitting section of the verdict, the Court did not give value to the part of the testimony provided by witness Dušan Grbić who stated during the investigation that “Tolobić”, Vrljanović, “Toša” and Vujkovac went with Miščević in the direction of Novska.

The defence insisted on obtaining the case file from the Zagreb County Court in the criminal proceedings which were, according to the defence, conducted in 1993 before the Zagreb Military Court against Dean Milić, the-then member of the Croatian formations, for the same event for which Miščević and Vrljanović were indicted.

According to the defence, the Sisak County Court obtained a wrong case file from the Zagreb County Court, which has no connection with the subject criminal act. The defence counsels filed a motion to obtain the aforementioned case file on the basis of which it would be determined whether a sentencing verdict was passed before the-then Military Court against Dean Milić for the brutal killing of the Grgić family and whether charges against that person were soon afterwards dropped due to the General Amnesty Act, but the evidence motion was rejected as irrelevant.