Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, defense lawyer for Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, one of the defendants in the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur retrial, says that the compensation being offered to his client is too low in comparison with that which has been offered in similar cases.
Guðjón was one of five defendants in a retrial of one of the most notorious criminal cases in Icelandic history. In September, Guðjón and Sævar Cieselski, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson, Kristján Viðar Júlíusson, and Albert Klahn Skaftason were acquitted of the murders of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson in 1974, for which they were sentenced in 1980.
The case revolved 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, police hever recovered the bodies of the missing men, were not able to confirm the location of the crime scene, and had no actual witnesses or forensic evidence. Murders are few and far between in Iceland and this was particularly true 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. Sævar Ciesielski, who had fought for years to have the case reopened and retried, died in 2011. (Read more about the case here and here.)
Following the acquittal, the Prime Minister issued a formal apology to the five wrongfully convicted defendants and appointed a working group to lead negotiations regarding compensation for the defendants and their families. Seven months have passed since then, but no formal compensation offer has yet been made.
Defense lawyer Ragnar Aðalsteinsson says that the government has informally proposed a ceiling of ISK 600 million [$62.3 million; €55.5] in compensation. In 1983, four suspects who were imprisoned for 105 days in connection with the murders were paid ISK 56 million [$459,921; €409,345] for every day they were wrongfully held in custody in compensation. This is equivalent to ISK 535 million [$4.39 million; €3.91 million] today. The current offer, says Ragnar, is roughly a tenth of that offer “…based on the same charges, in the same prison, at the same time.” Moreover, he says, the current compensation offer does not account for his client’s loss of employment and income at the time.
The defendants were held for up to two years in solitary confinement in addition to the prison terms they were sentenced to. Ragnar says that they should be compensated for at least ISK 390 million [$3.2 million; €2.85] for the two years they spent in solitary confinement.
Ragnar says that the significance of awarding substantial damages goes beyond simply compensating the defendants for their monetary losses at the time of their imprisonment. “High compensation has a range of effects. It is part of the pardon, but also acts as a restraint on police and judicial authorities in the future, to be more careful than they have been in this case, in the hope that something like this won’t repeat itself in the coming years and decades.”