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Scandal over wrongful convictions

Relatives of victims call for independent inquiry

Published måndag 6 augusti 2012 kl 17.25
Independent commission
(3:28 min)
So far three of "serial murderer" Thomas Quick's convictions have been overturned.

The scandal surrounding the erroneous murder convictions of Thomas Quick continues to rock Sweden. So far three of the eight guilty verdicts have been overturned. Now relatives want to know how and why Sweden’s most notorious “serial killer” was convicted in the first place.

Thirteen years after Björn Asplund’s 11-year-old son Johan disappeared from his home in Sundsvall in northern Sweden, Thomas Quick, now known as Sture Bergwall, admitted to abducting and killing the boy.

His confession was one of many that emerged during a therapy session at Säter Hospital, a locked psychiatric clinic for criminals, where Quick has spent many years for the crimes he now says he didn’t commit.

In all, Quick, who changed his name to Sture Bergwall, was convicted of eight murders committed between 1976 and 1988. These crimes were prosecuted during a seven-year period: 1994-2001. So far three of those convictions have been overturned, including the case of Johan Asplund.

Now Björn Asplund is one of several victim relatives demanding that an independent inquiry be convened to scrutinize the systems that led to the wrongful convictions.

“It’s not possible to do anything about what has happened but it is possible to prevent this from happening again by convening a commission that can go through this and try once and for all to establish boundaries that clearly establish each profession’s area of responsibility,” he said, speaking with Swedish Radio News.

In June applications to overturn the rulings in the remaining three murder cases were submitted. These include the cases of Charles Zelmanovits who disappeared from Piteå in northern Sweden in 1976 and a Dutch couple murdered in their tent while camping in northern Sweden in 1984.

Now people are asking themselves how the justice system could ever believe that Quick, a former drug addict with a psychiatric illness, was a serial killer? All of Quick’s confessions were made while taking heavy doses of sedatives. And although Quick did have a prior conviction for a serious but lesser crime, he was not even on the periphery of the murder investigations when they were conducted, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter writes.

Nor was any technical evidence linking Quick to the murder scenes ever found. In one of the crimes Quick said he committed it was proven that he was in another location at the time. In another case, the missing people he said he murdered were actually alive.

Despite this, Quick was convicted again and again.

Journalist Mattias Göransson, who helped finish a book on the subject by Hannes Råstam who died this winter, points to a systemic problem. In Dagens Nyheter this weekend he writes “The Swedish model still lives. People strive for agreement and mutual understanding, but there is a lack of  accountability, especially in the upper echelons.”

But as long as Bergwall maintained his guilt, the answer wasn’t obvious.

An editorial in today’s Dagens Nyheter suggests that it wasn’t a conspiracy that led to the convictions, but perhaps the psychological phenomenon “groupthink”—that is, when a group of people mutually reinforce one interpretation.

While the roles of a therapist, a memory specialist, police, prosecutor and defense lawyer are normally clearly delineated. These boundaries were not maintained when it came to encouraging a sick man to acknowledge his crimes and the justice system to convict him of them, Dagens Nyheter writes.

The bigger question is why no one in the justice system stopped the seven-year circus.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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