Court Denies Erla’s Request for Retrial

Guðmundur og Geirfinnur case Supreme court

In a decision handed down September 14, Erla Bolladóttir’s request for a retrial was denied. The court cited a lack of new developments in the case, and ordered Erla to pay some ISK 3 million in fees.

Convicted in 1980 in the notorious Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case, Erla has since fought for a retrial. Now, with her appeal rejected, she suggested at a press conference held Wednesday, September 21, that she may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Read more: States Opposes Compensation in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Case

“The condition for applying to the Human Rights Court is that you have exhausted all domestic means,” Erla said at the press conference. “This judgment of the court is the final word in this country, so it is definitely something I will consider.”

Erla also stated that she intended to pursue her fight for justice, saying that she was recently diagnosed with cancer: “Does anyone think I’m going to spend my last days lying to the world about this injustice?”

Read more: Compensation Awarded in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Case

The Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case is one of the most controversial and notorious criminal cases in Iceland’s modern history, revolving around the disappearance of two young men, Guðmundur and Geirfinnur, in 1974. Six individuals were ultimately convicted in connection to the case, but the extreme interrogation measures taken by the police, including sleep deprivation, drugs, and water torture, have caused many to question the legitimacy of the confessions. The convicts have previously stated that they signed the confessions in order to put an end to their solitary confinements, which, in Erla’s case, was for 242 days.

The case has been described as one of the most serious miscarriages of justice in Europe by foreign media.

In 2018, a retrial of the case led to five acquittals, though this notably did not apply to Erla who was also charged with perjury in the case.

At the time of writing, around 1,100 have signed a petition in support of Erla’s retrial.

 

Compensation Should Be Higher for Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Plaintiffs

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.”

Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Cold Case Re-Opened?

The police in the Reykjavík metropolitan area are now assessing whether to re-open the investigation into the disappearance of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson, Vísir reports. The pair disappeared nearly half a century ago but a number of new clues have come to light in recent years. These new clues might make it feasible to re-open the investigation. Guðmundur and Geirfinnur were never found, but six people were convicted of their alleged murders based on confessions extracted by police by intense and lengthy interrogations which included torture and solitary confinement. The sentences were passed despite a lack of of bodies, witnesses, or any forensic evidence. Five of the six originally sentenced were acquitted on the 27th of September, 2018, 44 years after Guðmundur’s and Geirfinnur’s disappearance.

“We are assessing our options and looking into how we might go about it. It’s now explicit that the case isn’t fully solved”, Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir, head of police of the Reykjavík metropolitan police, stated. Sigríður says that the police have to assess the new data that has come forward in the case, and if they give a reason for a special investigation. It is the norm to only open closed cases when new data has been presented.

Sigríður stated the police was not involved in the recently completed re-trial of the case of five of the six who were sentenced for Guðmundur’s and Geirfinnur’s appearance. Read more about the re-trial, and the following aquittal, here.

Read more about the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case here.

New leads on Geirfinnur

A man presented himself to the police at the end of 2016 and stated that he saw three men dressed in civilian clothing arriving on a small boat to Vestmannaeyjar on the 20th of November, 1974. This was the day after Geirfinnur Einarsson disappeared in Keflavík. Two of the men led the third between them appeared weak, and almost without consciousness. They arrived into the fish processing plant which the eyewitness was situated and stayed there for some time with the company chef’s permission.

The weak man in the middle was to have said “Remember me” when they got ready to return to the boat. The eyewitness then saw them head to the boat and out to sea. A while later they returned to shore but only two people left the boat. The witness did not see the two men again until two decades later, when he saw one of them in East Iceland working on electricity lines for Landsvirkjun.

A report was also taken of the eyewitness’ ex-girlfriend who was with him in Vestmannaeyjar. She did not see the three men, but she received a phone call two days later where she and the witnessed were threatened with execution. They feared the threat and therefore said nothing until now.

New leads on Guðmundur

Stefán Almarsson, who is believed to have lied to the police that Kristján Viðar Leifsson and Sævar Cieselski played a part in Guðmundur’s disappearance, was interrogated by police in 2015. The interrogation took place due to testimony by Stefán’s ex-girlfriend, where she stated that she was a passenger in a car controlled by Stefán which struck Guðmundur Einarsson on the night before 27th of January 1974. According to her testimony, Guðmundur was taken into the car before she was driven home. Guðmundur was getting visibly worse for wear when she left the car.

Þórður Eyþórsson was also interrogated, as the woman stated he was among the passengers in the car. Both Stefán and Þórður steadfastly deny playing any part in Guðmundur’s disappearance.

A report of Stefán, from 1977, exists about his goings on the night before 27th of January 1974. There he states he was partying with his friend in Reykjavík. In the interrogation, this friend neither confirmed nor denied being with Stefán that night, but admitted that he knew Guðmundur from his primary school years. That man is the older brother of Þórður Eyþórsson and is said to have been a greater friend of Stefán than Þórður, who was 16 years old when Guðmundur’s disappearance took place.

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.

Prison Logs Provide Vital Evidence in Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Retrial

Lawyers for three of the five defendants in the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur retrial made their cases to the Supreme Court on the second day of testimony, RÚV reports. Defense attorneys spoke on behalf of Kristján Viðar Viðarsson, Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, and Sævar Marínó Ciesielski. While presenting their defenses, the men’s attorneys referred to important new evidence—the prison log books from the time of their clients’ interrogation—which provided a clear picture of the abuses the defendants had to endure while in solitary confinement.

The infamous and highly contested case—called by one defense lawyer a “judicial scandal”— has long been attended by accusations of mismanagement, rampant abuse, and fabricated confessions. (For a detailed explanation of the case and its legacy, see the BBC investigatory article The Reykjavik Confessions.)

The case revolves around the disappearance of Guðmundur Einarsson in January 1974, followed by that of Geirfinnur Einarsson (no relation) in November of the same year. Police never recovered the bodies of either man and rumors and conspiracy theories long circulated as to what had happened to them. The defendant Sævar Ciesielski, who was known to police at the time and had been picked up along with his girlfriend (and mother of his eleven-month-old daughter) Erla Bolladóttir, for a petty crime in December 1975, was eventually implicated in the suspected murders of both of the disappeared men.

Sævar, Erla, and four of Sævar’s friends were also eventually charged with the murders: Guðjón Skarphéðinsson, Kristján Viðar Viðarsson Júlíusson, Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson and Albert Klahn Skaptason. All of them received prison sentences of varying lengths, up to 17 years, and their convictions were largely based on confessions that were extracted from them during lengthy interrogations and after spending extremely long periods of time in solitary confinement and enduring serious abuse, even torture. During its remarks on Thursday, the defense also pointed out that confessions were not obtained from their clients until after a year spent in custody.

Prosecutor Davíð Þór Björgvinsson said that the defendants’ confessions had been the only real evidence in both investigations and that the convictions would not have been made without those confessions. One of the primary reasons that the case was allowed to be retried, however, was that the Ministry of Justice’s Rehearing Committee had determined that evidence had not been gathered according to proper procedure.

One of the defense’s primary points of contention is the length of time that their clients were held in isolation. Today, it’s thought that 15 days in solitary confinement can cause lasting harm to a person. Some of the defendants, however, were held for as much as two years in isolation. Erla, for instance, was isolated and kept away from her baby daughter for 105 days, during which she was interviewed 100 times—only three times in the presence of a lawyer. Tryggvi Rúnar Leifsson was kept in solitary confinement for a mind-boggling 655 days, during which time he “kept detailed diaries, to cling on to reality, to remind himself he was innocent.” These journals were smuggled out of the prison by a sympathetic priest. Three of them survived to the present day—hidden for safe-keeping by Tryggvi’s daughter—and, in addition to Guðjón’s journals, make up some of the evidence that allowed defense attorneys to secure a retrial.

In addition to these journals, the prison’s log books also provide vital insight into how authorities managed interrogations at the time of investigation. These were not referred to during the first trial and detail who came to the prison where the defendants were being held, when, and who they met with. There are, however, no transcripts showing what was said during these interrogations.

On Thursday, the defense also spoke on the harshness of their clients treatment in prison. Sævar, who police decided was the ringleader, was subjected to the worst of it. According to the prison log, on one occasion, all of the things in his cell were removed. The light switch in his cell was disconnected so that he could never turn off the light. He was also prevented from sleeping by police guards. He and the four other men were also routinely drugged while in custody.

The defense contended that both the criminal court and the Supreme Court committed offenses by ignoring evidence of the defendants’ innocence and ordering police not to pursue these lines of inquiry. The case represents a miscarriage of justice, said Guðjón’s lawyer Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, and it’s important that the court admit to its mistakes. Defense lawyers also pointed out that the case would not even be under review with the Rehearing Committee now except for the fact that Sævar Ciesielski, who died in 2011, fought for years to have it retried.

Following the day’s proceedings, Sævar and Erla Bolladóttir’s daughter Júlía said that in her opinion, an acquittal alone would not be sufficient. “I think getting this declaration of innocence would be the bare minimum because there were clearly very big mistakes made, significant violations, and it calls for something more than just an acquittal. But this is obviously in the hands of the Supreme Court and there’s nothing to do but wait for their ruling.”

Guðmundur and Geirfinnur Retrial Begins

The retrial of six individuals sentenced in the infamous Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case decades ago began today, RÚV reports. In February of this year, the state prosecutor requested a full acquittal of the individuals sentenced in the infamous case, and the trial began today.

Davíð Þór Björgvinsson, the case prosecutor, is building his plea on the verdict of a committee which ruled to reopen the case last year. Davíð Þór argues that new evidence, including the diaries of Tryggvi Rúnars Leifsson and Kristján Viðar Víðarsson, two of the six people convicted in the case, call for a full acquittal of the six individuals. He also adds that the harsh treatment of the accused during the handling of the case was not considered in the original ruling.

The case revolves around the disappearance of two men, Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson (no relation), in 1974. Six people were ultimately convicted of the murders of these two men and received prison sentences of various lengths, up to 17 years. The convictions were based on confessions extracted from the individuals during lengthy interrogations. Their validity as evidence has since been refuted, as records show the accused were held in extended solitary confinement, drugged, and in some cases tortured.

The case is well known outside of Iceland. In 2014, it was the subject of a BBC programme called The Reykjavík Confessions, while in 2017 a documentary on the topic was released on Netflix, titled Out of Thin Air.