The verdict was handed down by the Court of the City of Pécs. As far as I can figure out these city courts are at the bottom of the judicial hierarchy. The verdict is as surprising as the location because in the County of Baranya there are five city courts, including one in Szigetvár where the crime was actually committed. The background is as follows. On January 22 five young guys from Barcs after drinking quite a bit got it into their heads that they would like to take a train ride. They got on the train toward Pécs. But since they had neither tickets nor money the conductor ushered them off the train at Szigetvár. By that time it was fairly late, and they began to wander around a town they apparently didn't know. After a while they found themselves in a park. As it turned out, that particular park is often visited by local Gypsies. The five men, aged between 18 and 23, covered their faces with ski masks and kerchiefs and savagely attacked two Gypsy women, mother and daughter. They beat the older woman; when she fell on the ground they began to kick her. The daughter ran for help. One of the perpetrators ran after her with a chain in hand but luckily couldn't catch her. The five youngsters were arrested and during the police investigation they freely admitted that they beat up the two women only because they were Gypsies. So the prosecution charged them with a hate crime.
The five guys were found guilty but for assault only. According to Judge János Kovács the prosecution couldn't prove that the crime was racially motivated. What? That was my first reaction. How can that be when the guys freely admitted that they beat up the two women because they belonged to a minority group? Then I realized that the first newspaper report I read was not detailed enough. The journalist responsible for the article neglected to mention that in court they refused to admit any racial motivation. The judge claimed that the youngsters didn't know the city of Szigetvár and therefore they had no prior knowledge of the ethnic composition of the park's visitors. Moreover, it was dark and the two women's clothes in no way distinguished them as being Gypsies. He concluded that the guys were simply looking for trouble and the first likely victims they encountered were these two women. It was mere happenstance. Máté J., a juvenile, received a suspended sentence, but the others will have to serve time if the appelate court upholds the guilty verdict. The accused are appealing for lighter sentences while the prosecution wants to have harsher sentences that takes racism into consideration. Roland M. received one year and three months, Balázs K. eleven months, Zsolt S. nine months, and Gyula M. eight months.
The prosecution maintained that the crime was racially motivated and there were confessions to that end. Hungarian prosecutors are extremely successful at proving their cases because the court system favors the prosecution. We all know if only from television series how Anglo-Saxon courtroom procedure goes. The judge has either no knowledge of the case or limited knowledge (if he heard pretrial arguments) until the prosecution and defense offer opening arguments and then proceed to question witnesses. Nothing like that exists in Hungary. The prosecution puts together a written indictment which goes to the presiding judge before the court date. The judge has plenty of time to study the usually very long and detailed indictment. The defense is at a disadvantage. Hungarian prosecutors proudly claim that 99% of of their cases stand the scrutiny of the courts. Or as the critics of this procedure claim, if the prosecution finds you guilty you are finished. Given this bias toward the prosecution it is even more surprising that this time the prosecution's arguments proved to be inadequate.
A Hungarian judge plays a much more active role in the court procedure than do Anglo-Saxon judges. He himself questions the accused and therefore I'm somewhat surprised that the judge, especially since he was aware of the fact that the accused once admitted a racial element in the crime they committed, didn't question them in such a way that perhaps they would, even in a roundabout way, admit that the two women's Gypsy origin had something to do with their crime. It almost seems that János Kovács didn't want to find out the truth.
I'm not at all hopeful that the second round at the Baranya County Court will be any better at unearthing the truth. Put it this way, I would be surprised if the next judge found the crime racially motivated.