The family members of the fivesome witnessed the acquittal today in an emotionally charged courtroom. Sævar Cieselski’s daughter couldn’t help but shed a tear at the retrial
Acquittal in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Case
The Supreme Court of Iceland acquitted Sævar Cieselski, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, and Albert Klahn Skaftason, Vísir reports. The individuals were charged for the murders of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson in 1974, for which the fivesome received sentences in 1980.
Erla Bolladóttir was the only one of the six charged for the murders not to get a retrial. Here she sits at the front row of today’s hearing, with the family of Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson conversing with a judge in the background.
The lawyers of the defendants have made stark remarks about the hardship the defendants had to endure in the case. A full acquittal is requested for all of the individuals that were granted a retrial in the case, other than Guðjón Skarphéðinsson whose defendant requested that his client be declared innocent. Davíð Þór Björgvinsson, the district attorney in the case, has also requested a full acquittal of the individuals found guilty in the case.
The case revolves around the disappearance of two men, Guðmundur and Geirfinnur, in 1974. Six people were ultimately convicted of the murders of these two men based on confessions extracted by members of the police force. These confessions are believed to be faulty due to extreme length and intensity of the interrogations. Furthermore, there was a complete lack of bodies, a known crime scene, witnesses or forensic evidence. Murders are few and far between in Iceland and even more so in the 70s. There was tremendous pressure on police authorities to identify and sentence the culprits. It is believed that this pressure led to the extreme methods performed in order to extract confessions.
The six individuals eventually charged with the murders were Sævar Ciesielski, Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Albert Klahn Skaftason, Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, and Erla Bolladóttir. Among the methods used by police to gain confessions were lengthy stays in isolation, water torture, sleep deprivation, drugs, and a lack of contact with lawyers. Sævar Cieselski had to endure the longest stay in custody, a total of 1533 days, 615 of those in solitary confinement. He received the heaviest sentence, a maximum prison stay of 17 years. Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson was kept in solitary confinement for 655 days in total. Tryggvi’s stay is believed to be one of the longest stays in solitary confinement outside of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
The six individuals charged for the murders. From top left to bottom right: Sævar Cieselski, Erla Bolladóttir, Albert Klahn Skaftason, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, Guðjón Skarphéðinsson.
The committee of reopening cases agreed to have a retrial for the cases of five individuals sentenced for their role in the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case last February. The request to reopen the case on behalf of Erla Bolladóttir was rejected. A special committee was founded to handle the reopening of the case, and the committee believes that the foundation for the confessions is inadequate. The committee questions both the reliability of the confessions acquired as well as the forensic evidence surrounding the case. The time that it took to receive the confessions, along with the methods used to extract them are among the reasons listed for why the confessions are believed to be dubious at best. The bodies of Guðmundur and Geirfinnur were never found.
“I’ve worked on miscarriages of justice in many different countries. I’ve testified in several countries – hundreds of cases I’ve done, big cases. I’d never come across any case where there had been such intense interrogation, so many interrogations, and such lengthy solitary confinement. I was absolutely shocked when I saw that”, Gísli H. Guðjónsson, professor of Forensic Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry of King’s College London.
Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson received an acquittal today for his part in the case. His grandson and namesake, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, along with Tryggvi’s daughter, take in the sentence.
In the spotlight
The case is well known outside Iceland. ‘Out of Thin Air’, a documentary covering the events of the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case was released by Netflix in 2017. Directed by Dylan Howitt, the film covers the events of the murders and was inspired by the BBC programme ‘The Reykjavík Confessions’, which was released in 2014.