Crime in Knin

On 3 July 2008, the War Crimes Council of the Šibenik County Court found the defendant Saša Počuča guilty of a war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the Basic Criminal Law of the RoC (hereinafter: the OKZ RH) and a war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH and sentenced him to 5 (five) years in prison.

The Supreme Court of the RoC (at the public session held on 16 December 2008) altered the verdict of the Šibenik County Court in the decision on sentence and the defendant Počuča received 5 years in prison for each criminal act and was handed down a joint prison sentence in the duration of 8 years.
INDICTMENT (SUMMARY)

The defendant is charged that, in the period between end of June 1991 and February 1992 in Knin, during the armed aggression against the Republic of Croatia by the so-called JNA and paramilitary forces from SR Yugoslavia and armed Serb paramilitary formations belonging to the unconstitutional entity, the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina, after members of the «Martić’s Militia» unlawfully deprived of liberty civilians (count I of the indictment), Croatian Military (HV) members and members of the Croatian Police – MUP (count II of the indictment) and detained them in the District Prison located in the premises of the old and abandoned hospital in Knin, the defendant was performing the duty of a guard in that prison. Acting in the capacity of a “Martić’s policeman”, the defendant was beating the aforementioned detainees on a daily basis with legs, fists, rubber baton, gunstock, wooden bat hold, wooden stake, baton and other hard objects on their heads and all over their bodies, tortured them with electro shocks, as a result of which treatment the detainees would fall on the floor and lose conscience. He jumped on them causing injuries to their bodies, put kitchen salt in their mouths, put out cigarettes in their mouths and forced them to swallow the cigarette ash and kitchen salt; he forced them to wash toilette floors with their tongues and to pick up cigarettes in the prison yard with their mouths, forced them to perform oral sex threatening them with death, which they did fearing for their lives. Thus, as a result of sustained numerous serious physical life-threatening injuries in the shape of bone fractures, internal bleeding and various other serious physical injuries, as well as due to mental torture and abuse, the injured parties suffered permanent damage to their physical and mental health and permanent disability,

1. thus, having violated the rules of the international humanitarian law during an armed conflict, he tortured civilian population and treated them inhumanely,

2. thus, having violated the rules of the international humanitarian law, he tortured, inhumanely treated war prisoners and caused them huge suffering and injuries to their physical integrity and health,

whereby he committed, under count 1, criminal act against humanity and the international humanitarian law, war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH, and under count 2 criminal act against humanity and international humanitarian law, war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH, punishable pursuant to Article 43 of the same Law.

You can read the indictment issued by the Šibenik County State’s Attorney’s Office (hereinafter: the ŽDO), No. K-DO-21/07 of 16 October 2007, here (pdf, 3,73 MB). (in Croatian)

 

GENERAL DATA

Šibenik County Court

Case number: K 52/07

War Crimes Council: Judge Jadranka Biga – Milutin, Council President; Judge Sanibor Vuletin, Council member; Judge Ivo Vukelja, Council member

Indictment: issued by the Šibenik ŽDO, No. K-DO-21/07 of 16 October 2007, modified by a submission dated 28 March 2008 and at the court hearing held on 23 May 2008

Prosecuting attorney: Zvonko Ivić, Deputy Šibenik County State’s Attorney and Sanda Pavlović – Lučić, Deputy Šibenik County State’s Attorney

Criminal act: war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH and war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH

Defendant: Saša Počuča

Defence counsel: Vera Bego, a lawyer practising in Šibenik

Victims (civilians):

– died as a result of injuries sustained: Ivan Hodak

– abused: Šime Čačić, Ante Mioč, Drago Šimić, Ivan Šimić, Ivica Zrno, Ivana Lipak, Živko Mikulić, Diki Šaban, Tomislav Teskera, Krsto Silov, Marko Salopek, Stipe Banovac, Franjo Haužan, Mirko Barbarić, Marko Sikavica, Mato Baković, Marko Baković, Marko Lojić, Davor Lojić, Mirko Pilipović, Mićo Katuša, Ivan Požeg, Lenko Škibola, Stanko Kolčeg, Mile Šindilj, Ante Lojić, Mile Skorup, Ilija Hodak, Ante Kamber, Mile Modrić, Mile Maričić, Ivan Žarković, Ivan Buljan and Mile Slavić.

Victims (abused prisoners): Jakov Ćosić, Žarko Matenda, Ivica Graberski, Nenad Lazarušić, Miho Periš, Ivica Matić, Željko Mrkonjić, Josip Keselj, Božo Franić, Tomislav Grubišić, Zdenko Blažević, Denis Delić, Slavko Silov, Ante Grgić, Ivica Jamičić, Pajo Jamičić, Jure Rogić (pripadnici Hrvatske vojske); Radoslav Bobanović, Milan Špoljarić, Mirko Medunić, Ivan Škorić i Željko Lipak, Velibor Bračić, Ante Slavić, Vladimir Mikulić, Zvonko Maloča, Ante Kunac, Ivica Klanac, Ivan Validžić, Ivan Pavičić, Ante Marinović, Denis Bronić and Ivan Atelj (members of the Croatian MUP).
MONITORING REPORTS

KNIN monitoring reports (in Croatian)

The first hearing was held on 23 January 2008, followed by additional eight hearings at which a total of 26 witnesses were heard. The following witnesses were heard: Šime Čačić, Ivan Hodak, Ivan Šimić, Jakov Ćosić, Ivica Matić, Ivica Graberski, Anđelko Krvavica, Radoslav Bobanović, Tomislav Grubišić, Mirko Medunić, Ivan Škorić, Milan Špoljarić, Ivan Lipak, Nenad Lazarušić, Anto Mioč, Žarko Matenda, Miho Periš, Ilija Hodak, Milan Conjar, Marko Salopek, Dikin Šaban, Tomislav Teskera, Franjo Halužar, Mirko Barbarić, Ivan Požeg and Zvonko Maloča.

At the first hearing held on 23 January 2008, the indictment was read, the defendant entered his guilt plea and presented his defence. At the hearing held on 5 March 2008, the public was excluded during the witness testimony of Tomislav Grubišić, as well as at the hearing held on 7 April 2008 during the witness testimony of Nenad Lazarušić. These testimonies are secret and were not published in monitoring reports.

The Deputy Šibenik County State’s Attorney forwarded a written submission to the Court on 31 March in which he modified the factual description of the indictment K-DO-21/07 of 16 October 2008, so that, along with the names of injured parties from the criminal act under count 1 he also added the following names: Diki Šaban, Tomislav Teskera, Krsto Silov, Marko Salopek, Stipe Banovac, Franjo Halužan, Mirko Barbarić, Marko Sikavica, Mate Baković, Marko Baković, Marko Lojić, Davor Lojić, Mirko Pilipović, Mićo Katuša, Ivan Požeg, Lenko Škibola, Stanko Kolčeg, Mile Šindilj, Ante Lojić, Mile Skorup, Ilija Hodak, Ante Kamber, Mile Modrić, Mile Maričić, Ivan Žarković, while along with the names of injured parties from the criminal act under count 2 he also added the following names: Zdenko Blažević, Denis Delić, Slavko Silov, Ante Grgić, Ivica Jamičić, Pajo Jamičić, Jure Rogić, Velibor Bračić, Ante Slavić, Vladimir Mikulić, Zvonko Maloča, Ante Kunac, Ivica Klanac, Ivan Validžić, Ivan Pavičić, Ante Marinović, Denis Bronić, Ivan Atelj.

The main hearing at the Šibenik County Court was concluded on 3 July 2008 and the Council, following deliberation and voting, reached a verdict pursuant to which the defendant Saša Počuča was found guilty of a war crime against civilians and a war crime against war prisoners and received a joint prison sentence in the duration of 5 years.
VERDICT

The defendant Saša Počuča was found guilty because, in the period between end of August 1991 and beginning of January 1992 in Knin, during the armed aggression by the so-called JNA and paramilitary forces from SR Yugoslavia and armed Serb paramilitary formations, after members of the «Martić’s Militia» unlawfully deprived of liberty civilians (Šimo Čačić, Ante Mioč, Drago Šimić, Ivan Šimić, Ivica Zrno, Živko Mikulić, Mirko Pilipović, Ivan Požeg, Ivan Buljan and Milo Slavić), Croatian Military members (Jakov Ćosić, Žarko Matenda, Ivica Graberski, Nenad Lazarušić, Miho Peruš, Ivica Matić, Željko Mrkonjić, Josip Keselj, Božo Franić, Tomislav Grubišić, Zdenko Blažević and Denis Delić) and members of the Croatian MUP (Radoslav Bobanović, Mirko Medunić, Ivan Škorić, Ante Slavić, Vladimir Mikulić and Ivan Atelj) and detained them in the District Prison located in the premises of the old and abandoned hospital in Knin where the defendant was beating the aforementioned detained civilians and the detained war prisoners on a daily basis with legs, fists, rubber baton, gunstock, wooden bat hold, wooden stake, baton and other hard objects, put kitchen salt onto their injuries, put out cigarettes in their mouths, put a handful of kitchen salt in their mouths, forced them to swallow the cigarette ash and kitchen salt, forced them to wash toilette floors with their tongues and to pick up cigarettes in the prison yard with their mouths, forced them to perform oral sex so that they would be taking turns placing penises into their mouths threatening them that he would kill them and cut off their penises if they failed to comply, which they did fearing for their lives. Thus, as a result of sustained serious physical injuries such as bone fractures, internal bleeding and various other physical injuries, as well as due to mental torture and abuse, the injured parties suffered permanent damage to their physical and mental health and permanent disability. Thereby he committed, under count 1, a criminal act against humanity and the international humanitarian law, war crime against civilians referred to in Article 120, paragraph 1 of the OKZ RH, and under count 2 a criminal act against humanity and international humanitarian law, war crime against war prisoners referred to in Article 122 of the OKZ RH.

The defendant Počuča received 3 years in prison for each criminal act and was handed down a joint prison sentence in the duration of 5 years.

The time he had spent in detention will be calculated into the aforementioned prison sentence (he has been in detention since he was deprived of liberty on 19 April 2007).

Detention against the defendant was extended.

The Supreme Court of the RoC (at the public session held on 16 December 2008) altered the verdict of the Šibenik County Court in the decision on sentence and the defendant Počuča received 5 years in prison for each criminal act and was handed down a joint prison sentence in the duration of 8 years.

You can read the verdict of the Supreme Court here. (in Croatian)
OPINION OF THE MONITORING TEAM AFTER THE FIRST INSTANCE PROCEDURE

The War Crimes Council of the Šibenik County Court found the defendant Saša Počuča guilty of torture, inhumane treatment and imposing of huge suffering and physical injuries to the detained civilians and members of the Croatian MUP and the HV in detention facility at the so-called Old Hospital in Knin. For both criminal acts, a war crime against civilians and a war crime against war prisoners, the defendant received three years in prison and was handed down a joint prison sentence in the duration of five years. During the sentencing procedure, the Court took as mitigating circumstance the fact that the defendant was a young adult at the incriminating time and, by way of applying the sentence mitigation principle, for each of the criminal acts it pronounced a sentence below the minimum sentence stipulated for the criminal acts in question.

Although the defendant denied guilt, the War Crimes Council assessed his defence as unconvincing, bearing in mind the witness testimonies that charged him. As many as 14 heard witnesses, either detained or imprisoned in the detention facility where the defendant was a guard at the incriminating time, directly charged the defendant. Most of them stated that the defendant, as a prison guard, beat them, while several of them stated that he also participated in rape and other forms of abuse.

During the sentencing procedure, the Court applied the sentence mitigation principle. While doing so, it primarily assessed as a mitigating circumstance the defendant’s age at the time of committing a crime, but the question is whether the Supreme Court, should it deem that the facts were correctly established in the first instance procedure, will find the application of the sentence mitigation principle appropriate, particularly taking into account the number of criminal acts the defendant had committed and a large number of injured parties that were, according to the establishment of the first instance court, beaten or in other ways physically (the defendant put kitchen salt on their wounds an put out cigarettes in their mouths…) and sexually abused (the defendant forced them to perform oral sex)[1].

We did not monitor the main hearing in its entirety, but still we would like to point at the omissions that we observed during the monitored hearings:

• Material evidence, documents and testimonies provided during the investigation were neither read nor briefly verbally presented, but the minutes from the court hearing stated otherwise, thus the public had no possibility to access their contents.

• It was recorded in the minutes from the court hearing that the witnesses were properly advised on their duty to testify and on specific legal regulations, but the witnesses were not entirely familiarised with the content of legal regulations.

• Council President posed suggestive questions by paraphrasing some witness testimonies provided during the investigation, stating the names, dates etc. without allowing witnesses to provide this information themselves; thus, in that sense, she left the impression of putting suggestive influence onto witnesses.

• Council President interrupted the closing speech of the defendant. Although in some cases and following a prior warning she is entitled to do so, in this particular case it was not recorded in the minutes from the main hearing that the speech was interrupted and what was the reason for that.

• Council President denied monitors access to the minutes from the court hearing or to the case file.



[1] The Supreme Court of the RoC (at the public session held on 16 December 2008) altered the verdict of the War Crimes Council of the Šibenik County Court in the decision on sentence and the defendant Počuča received 5 years in prison for each criminal act and was handed down a joint prison sentence in the duration of 8 years.