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Rare Retrial Begins in Killing of American in Greece

todayFebruary 23, 2022

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ATHENS — In the summer of 2017, Bakari Henderson, a 22-year-old American student, was beaten to death on the Greek holiday island of Zakynthos. The men convicted in Mr. Henderson’s case were initially charged with murder, but a court instead found them guilty of assault and most have served their sentences and been released.

On Wednesday, a court began in earnest to retry the case, again on murder charges, after the defense requested a delay on Monday. The retrial comes after a prosecutor deemed the assault convictions and subsequent sentences too lenient.

“We’re starting from the very beginning, a blank slate,” said Christos Kaklamanis, the lawyer representing the family. “They all face murder charges.”

This type of retrial is rare. The concept of double jeopardy is applied in Greece, but it only attaches if a verdict is final. Since the original decision was appealed by a prosecutor, it was not final and there can be a new trial on the same original charges.

The deadly assault, which followed an argument at a bar, made international headlines, and Mr. Henderson’s family has returned to Greece for the retrial.

Postponed several times because of the coronavirus pandemic and legal obstacles, the new trial finally got underway in the city of Patras, in western Greece, on Wednesday. The defendants are five Serbian nationals, a Briton of Bosnian descent and a Greek national who was released in the first trial after a conviction for simple assault with time served in pretrial custody. It was not clear how many of the men would appear at the retrial because some have returned to their home countries.

Mr. Henderson, a college graduate from Austin, Texas, had been traveling in Greece with friends and working on a photography shoot for the opening of a clothing line at the time of the attack, in July 2017.

Video from security cameras at the party resort of Laganas in Zakynthos shows a savage assault. A swarm of men can be seen chasing Mr. Henderson down a street before throwing him against a parked car and punching and kicking him repeatedly. A Greek police spokesman said at the time that Mr. Henderson died within 30 seconds.

Witness testimony suggested that the attack may have been racially motivated. A female bartender told investigators that when she had posed for a selfie with Mr. Henderson, who was Black, a man standing nearby commented: “There are a lot of Serbs in the bar. Why are you talking to a Black guy?”

She said the man then punched Mr. Henderson, who responded by hitting him over the head with a beer bottle. That exchange was also captured on video inside the bar.

Of the nine men initially charged in the beating, six were jailed. The Briton received the longest sentence: 15 years in prison. Five of the Serbian suspects got sentences from five to 10 years but have since been released (under the Greek penal code and parole system, actual time spent in prison generally ends up being less than half the sentences meted out in court). Now seven of the men face the original murder charges again.

Mr. Henderson’s family wants the attackers to serve the maximum penalty for murder, a life sentence, though practically in Greece that means 20 years in prison.

“After being slapped in the face, Bakari was defending himself in what started as a one-on-one incident that stopped when they went outside,” Jill Henderson, Bakari’s mother, said in an email.

“So for the mob to then chase Bakari down,” she wrote, “beat him to death, and leave him in the street to die is not a fight but a slaughter, which was inhumane and barbaric behavior.”

Mrs. Henderson, who has since established a foundation to provide support for families in mourning, added, “Justice will be served when all defendants are charged with intentional homicide, sentenced accordingly, and extradited back to Greece to serve their full sentences.”

To secure more severe terms, the prosecution must convince the court that the assailants intended to kill Mr. Henderson. If the retrial produces assault convictions again, some of the convicts might end up spending very little or no additional time in prison, Mr. Kaklamanis, the family’s lawyer, said.

Convictions for assault in Greece carry terms of five to 15 years, though time served is usually much less.

Defense lawyers have insisted that Mr. Henderson’s death was tragic but unintentional. Agamemnon Tatsis, the lawyer for two of the Serbs, including the one who threw the first punch, said that his clients did not deserve additional sentences. “They’ve paid for what they did,” he said. And he said that Mr. Henderson provoked the attack by using a beer bottle in responding to the initial blow.

Athanassios Tartis, the lawyer for the Briton, said that his client “felt the weight” of his part in the attack but that the fatal blows came from others.

Violent fights are not unusual in Laganas, a resort that attracts young tourists with cheap alcohol and often raucous gatherings. Deaths are uncommon though. A British man was stabbed to death in Laganas in 2011, shocking the island community.

In recent years, the Greek authorities have sought to crack down on alcohol-fueled offenses in Laganas, while trying to sustain the foreign tourism on which the local economy depends. Last summer, the authorities introduced 24-hour police patrols and restricted traffic on the central road in Laganas after a spate of violent brawls in the area.

Mrs. Henderson said that she hoped the retrial would bring the family closure. “The past five years have been exhausting and sometimes overwhelming because it feels like a dark cloud lingering over us,” she said. “The defendants did not show ownership or remorse for their actions which adds salt to our open wounds.”

Original story from https://www.nytimes.com

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