Crime in Cerna

On 14 February 2008, the Vukovar County Court announced a verdict of guilty in the trial against the defendants Tomislav Madi, Mario Jurić, Zoran Poštić, Davor Lazić and Mijo Starčević for committing a war crime against civilians pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH. This criminal offence was committed on 17 February 1992 in Cerna by killing the Olujić family. The following prison sentences were pronounced to the defendants: 20 years to Madi; 12 years to Jurić, 8 years to Poštić, 7 years to Lazić and 10 years to Starčević. The public session of the Croatian Supreme Court was held on 25 March 2009. The sentence in respect of Jurić and Lazić was upheld but it was reduced in respect of the other defendants so that Madi was sentenced to 15, Poštić to 7 and Starčević to 8 years of imprisonment.

 

INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)

The Vukovar County State’s Attorney’s Office issued the indictment No. K-DO-52/06, of 29 December 2006, which was later modified by a memo dated 8 February 2008. With the indictment, the defendants were accused that on 17 February 1992 in early evening hours in Komletinci, in the primary school building where the headquarters of the reconnaissance-and-diversion company of the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS) of the Croatian Army was situated, the first accused Tomislav Madi, in his capacity as the commander of the company, issued an order to the company members (2nd accused Mario Jurić, a member of the 131st Brigade of the Croatian Army , 3rd accused Zoran Poštić, 4th accused Davor Lazić and an unidentified person under the nickname of «Bosanac» – all members of the mentioned reconnaissance-and-diversion unit), to go to Cerna and execute the Chetniks known to him, even though he knew that they were civilians. He further ordered the mentioned persons to steal valuables from the house and then mine the house. He ordered the 5th accused Mijo Starčević, also a member of the mentioned unit, to drive them to Cerna where he pointed a house in the Braća Radić street no 51a out to them. The 2nd accused Mario Jurić and the person under the nickname “Bosanac” entered the mentioned house and fired several shots at Radomir Olujić, Anica Olujić, a minor Milena Olujić and a child Marko Olujić, inflicting severe wounds from which they immediately died. In the meanwhile, the 3rd accused Zoran Poštić and the 4th accused Davor Lazić while searching the house found and took a hunting rifle, cartridges, 1500 German Marks, a beret hat and a golden small chain with the pendant of a four-leaf clover and a pair of golden earrings with three blue stones, and then they tried to mine the house by planting the fuses and explosive in the house, but because of unskilled planting the explosion did not occur. In the meantime, the 5th accused Mijo Starčević waited in the personal vehicle, and when the mentioned persons came back to the vehicle carrying items and money found in the house, he drove them to Komletinci where they handed over the items and money to the 1st accused Tomislav Madi; thus, by violating the international humanitarian law at the time of armed conflict, the 1st accuse ordered the killing and plundering of the civilian population, whereas the 2nd- , 3rd- the 4th- and the 5th accused were killing and plundering the civilians as described; therefore they committed a criminal offence against humanity and international humanitarian law – a war crime against civilians as described and punishable pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the Republic of Croatia (hereinafter: the OKZRH).

 

TRIAL MONITORING REPORTS

The trial was held before the War Crimes Council of the Vukovar County Court comprising: judge Ante Zeljko – Council President, judges Jadranka Kurbel and Branka Ratkajec-Čović – Council members. The indictment was presented by Vlatko Miljković – the Vukovar County Deputy State’s Attorney. Defenence: lawyers Emil Havkić and Zlatko Cvrković representing the defendant Madi; lawyer Vjekoslav Cestar, a court-appointed defence lawyer representing the defendant Jurić; lawyer Gordan Perić representing the defendant Poštić; lawyer Marko Dumančić representing the defendant Lazić and lawyer Dražen Matijević representing the defendant Starčević. Victims: killed: Radomir, Anica, minors Milena and Marko Olujić.

 

VERDICT

On 14 February 2008, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to the following prison terms: Tomislav Madi (20 years), Mario Jurić (12 years), Zoran Poštić (8 years), Davor Lazić (7 years) and Mijo Starčević (10 years). The public session of the Croatian Supreme Court was held on 25 March 2009. Its report, available in Croatian, you can see here.

In respect of the defendants Jurić and Lazić the sentence was upheld, whereas in respect of the other defendants the sentence of imprisonment was reduced as follows: Madi (15 years), Poštić (7 years) and Starčević (8 years).

 

OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM FOLLOWING THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIRST INSTANCE PROCEEDINGS

The trial was conducted in accordance with the international standards of a fair trial. The defendants received sentences which were in accordance with the law and appropriate to the seriousness of the committed crime. In our opinion, this trial and the pronounced penalty make a positive contribution to the establishment of individual and societal responsibility for the committed crime, and establishment of justice towards victims. They should additionally contribute to the prevention of future violations of the international humanitarian law. This trial will also be remembered for the decision of the War Crimes Council to order presentation of numerous pieces of evidence during the evidence procedure, which should in fact have been presented during the investigation, in order to clarify uncertainties about the case. For 13 years, no criminal procedure had been initiated for the crimes committed against the Olujić family. It was only in 2005 that the first investigation was launched after the public had learnt about this crime from the Latinica TV show. Some of the witness statements, however, showed that the competent authorities had been aware of this crime since 1992, and even familiar with the likely perpetrators. The evidence procedure also revealed omissions in the preliminary police inspection. The War Crime Council President, Judge Ante Zeljko, concluded that “The police investigation carried out in this case is a textbook example of how not to conduct the police investigation.”

Explanation

With a first-instance court verdict No K-5/07, of 12 February 2008, the defendants were found guilty for committing a war crime against civilians, pursuant to Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZRH, by killing the Olujić couple and their two underage children. The defendants were sentenced to the following prison terms: Tomislav Madi – 20 years (a maximum prison sentence); Mario Jurić – 12 years (a maximum prison sentence prescribed for a minor perpetrator of a crime); Zoran Poštić – 8 years; Davor Lazić – 7 years; and Mijo Starčević – 10 years.

The trial lasted for 11 months and included 29 court sessions. Considering the amount of the presented evidence, the trial was run efficiently. Still, a lot of the evidence could have been presented during the investigation rather than the trial. Namely, beside the evidence suggested and presented by the prosecution and the defence, the War Crimes Council ordered presentation of additional evidence in order to clarify uncertainties about the case[1].

Three of the five accused (the defendants: Madi, Jurić and Starčević) presented their defence for the first time at the main hearing. Following the request of the defendant Jurić, Council President allowed that the defence of the accused be audio and video recorded.

The Court explained that the sentencing process included considerations of the severity of the committed crime and its tragic consequences, as well as the cruelty and obduracy of the perpetrators. The defendant Tomislav Madi was sentenced to a maximum prison sentence on the basis of his command responsibility. The Court justified the pronounced sentence with the statement that this was a case of the most severe form of a war crime against civilians and the highest degree of guilt: “The cumulation of vicious energy put forward the defendant Tomislav Madi as the central figure of the committed crime. The order to execute and plunder the whole family, and then ‘blow up’ their house was monstrous…”The defendant Mario Jurić was also sentenced to a maximum prison sentence prescribed for a minor perpetrator, pursuant to Article 110, paragraph 1 of the Juvenile Court Law, on the basis of direct responsibility. The Court found that the killing of the Olujić family was utterly brutal and fearsome: “The entire family perished in one moment. The father, the mother, the daughter and the son were murdered in their family home, which is a symbol of security. The son Marko (who was 12 years of age) was shot from a gun held close to his body with the gun barrel touching his body. “While determining the sentence for Zoran Poštić, the Court took into consideration the state of shock which the defendant claimed to have been in while he was in the house of the murdered victims, but he regardless later asked the defendant Tomislav Madi to keep the beret hat stolen from the victims’ house.

During the trial, the defendants were kept in custody pursuant to the provisions of Article 102, paragraph 1, item 4 of the Criminal Procedure Act.



[1] The War Crime Council ordered presentation of following additional evidence: a DNA analysis of the defendants’ blood samples; an analysis of the epithelial cells detected on a cigarette butt found at the crime scene; verification of a possible match between a tooth sample and a part of a thigh bone from the exhumed body of the victim Stojan Vujnović “Serb”, and the cell samples detected on the cigarette butt found at the crime scene; verification of a possible match between a tooth sample and a part of a thigh bone from the exhumed body of the victim Stjepan Maleničić and the epithelial cell samples detected on a male ring obtained from the witness Nevenka Madi; verification of a possible match between a tooth sample and a part of a thigh bone from the exhumed body of the victim Radomir Olujić and the epithelial cell samples detected on a male ring obtained from the witness Nevenka Madi.