It is not rare that new facts surface after an investigation, trial and sentencing. Evidence and facts often turn out not to be what they seem at first... The history of judiciary records thousands of innocents who were wrongly sentenced and executed but also even a greater number of criminals who were not punished for "the lack of evidence".
Still, "Damjanovic Case" isn't a drastic example for that. Even if he didn't kill the Blekic brothers and Ramiz Krso he is still guilty of the murder of three people, rapes, looting and expulsion of Bosniaks from the Vogosca municipality. In the indictment and sentence, the committed crimes were characterized as a war crime against civilians, war prisoners and genocide. This article does not intend to defend Sretko Damjanovic or to diminish the extent of his crime. Sretko Damjanovic is a Chetnik who should be punished for his crimes. Although the only evidence for the murders were the statements by Herak and Tomic (other witnesses testified that he had beaten war prisoners) and there was no material evidence for them, it is obvious that he is a criminal who has committed many crimes against Bosniaks because of his nationalism; by doing that he implemented genocidal policy of the Serb leadership. The problem is that now, "Damjanovic case" will be used to discredit Bosnian judicial system which the enemies of Bosnia-Hercegovina try to portray as incompetent, too politicized etc. Unfortunately, certain grounds for such accusations do exist. It is enough to mention that during the investigation and trial Damjanovic's "victims" lived in Sarajevo, in Ugorsko, and, as members of the First motorized brigade, fought on the front. They knew very little about the trial. It is astounding that no one who knew them informed them or the Court that some Chetnik was accused of murdering them.
However, it is worrisome that the then investigator, actually investigative magistrate Saban Maksumic didn't make a necessary effort to obtain more convincing evidence, or at least remove the risk of such scandal for the Bosnian judicial system.
Ljiljan tried to reveal the background of the trial with the main protagonists, to answer all controversial questions, check the quality of verdict etc. The real goal of this "digging" through the "Damjanovic case", which our side tried to ignore, is to sound an early warning and make sure that someone's inability or premeditated planting of fake evidence doesn't ruin indictments against bigger fish. The trials against Mladic, Karadzic and others from the warrants issued by the Hague Tribunal still await us. One must not forget that the work of the International tribunal is mostly based on the evidence collected by the relevant domestic services!
THe defence council for the second accused Sretko Damjanovic (36) claimed during the trial that there was not enough evidence for Damjanovic's guilt.
Defense council for the first accused, Borislav Herak, lawyer Milan Prpa, left Sarajevo a year after the trial and now lives in Novi Sad. The then prosecutor, Ljubomir Lukic, also isn't any more in Sarajevo; he now lives in Paris. After Prpa's departure, lawyer Vaso Simanic from Sarajevo took over Herak's defense. Simanic hasn't asked for a new trial for his client, but he says:
"I am in contact with Maric; I am waiting for the Court's reaction to his request. If his client gets a new trial, according to our laws, the whole process must be repeated, for all three accused: Damjanovic, Herak and Tomic." To our question whether there are new elements in Herak's case and whether he now denies murders and rapes which he earlier confessed, Simanic replied:
"No, in Herak's case there are no new elements. During my most recent visit, on March 5, he didn't say anything regarding that. He doesn't deny anything. Besides, the complaint of the previous defense council, that Herak is mentally unfit to stand a trial, was rejected by the Court experts. Nevertheless, if the trial is repeated I will demand concrete evidence: establishment of the exact time and place of crimes, and questioning of witnesses. We would also demand exhumation of corpses or search for other evidence of crimes for which my client was indicted."
The third accused, Nada Tomic, doesn't stand to gain anything from a new trial. At the first trial she was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for safeguarding of stolen goods but she was released soon afterwards in a prisoner exchange.
Saban Maksumovic, the investigative magistrate in the case against Damjanovic has this to say about the case, four years after the end of the trial:
"I was the investigative magistrate and I conducted the investigation. All that was demanded in the investigation warrant was accomplished at that time. Once the indictment was issued, the presiding judge took over the case. The judges thought that the evidence was convincing and decided that the accused were guilty and sentenced them accordingly. Nevertheless, it is always possible to find new evidence which is presented to the Court. In that case, everyone has a right to demand a new trial. If the people for whose murder Damjanovic was indicted are now alive, there are always grounds for a new trial. But, if some of his alleged victims are alive, it doesn't mean that the accused is not guilty, because in addition he killed a few more persons. The fact that two are alive doesn't remove his responsibility for other murders."
Mr. Maksumovic also said that his conscience is clear because he followed the investigation warrant and accomplished everything that was demanded in it:
"That was a different time. Something like that can happen in peace, let alone in a war. The investigation was as complete as any other. Situations like this one are not uncommon in legal practice. In that case, if there are grounds for a new trial, the legal process is repeated."
"This is the first death penalty in my professional career. I believe that the investigation was complete and fair, the trial as well, and that their guilt has been proven. Herak and Damjanovic committed such crimes that the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment for committed and proven crimes. In that sense, my conscience is clear and I will sleep well tonight."
Today, four years after the verdict and after the appearance of the Blekic brothers, Fahrudin Teftedarija is equally convinced that he gave a just verdict.
"The appearance of the Blekics and the fact that other people are indicted for the murder of Ramiz Kreso does not significantly change the degree of Damjanovic's guilt. If he didn't kill six people, he killed three, he committed rapes and expulsions. At the time he was judged guilty for crimes against civilians, war prisoners and for genocide. Even if he wasn't tried for the murder of the Blekics and Krso, but for all other crimes which haven't been questioned, he would have probably received a death penalty," says Teftedarija. "He is still guilty for all other crimes. In this case, the investigation and the trial should be repeated since the Blekic's showed up. But, I repeat, Damjanovic is still guilty of everything else. Besides, the Supreme Court has twice confirmed the death penalty. In other words, the case was reviewed by another ten judges after me! You see, Tadic is on trial in the Hague. His guilt will be proven and he will be convicted although bodies of his victims hadn't been found, nor is the identity of all of them known."
After all, it seems that the whole affair is much simpler than it is portrayed by the media, unofficial diplomatic circles, in politics, and especially by the enemies of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Naturally, the defense lawyers will try to use every formal and relevant inconsistency in the defense of their clients. That is not an unethical, but a highly professional approach. That will also be a trial for the Bosnian justice system. The appearance of the Blekics and the questionable nature of the Krso's murder only minimally reduce the huge mountain of Damjanovic's and Herak's crimes. If that is all, according to lawyers, the two of them will still get the death penalty in a repeated trial. That would be justice without formal legal mistakes. The basic problem in the case is the problem of the rating of the Bosnian judicial system and the independence of the investigative bodies. For example, such a case wouldn't be newsworthy in USA, England or France. On the contrary, many cases in USA do not end with a just verdict. As many as 80% of trials in USA end in plea bargain which does not satisfy justice, but satisfies the interests of the sides in the trial. Still, it seems that even unavoidable mistakes which arose due to the abnormal conditions in which the trial was conducted (during the trial Serb artillery shot at the Court building) are not allowed to the Bosnian judicial system.
Otherwise, it could turn out that after several ruined indictments certain Tadics, Heraks, and Damjanovics haven't killed anyone, that there were no concentration camps and, therefore, no genocide against Bosniaks!
"Others were killed, but it was said that me and my brother were the victims. That day, May 25, 1992, several local inhabitants of Vogosca and the surrounding villages were murdered. Everyone knew them. Kasim Krso, a.k.a. Ismet, Ramiz Krso, Ibrahim Krso, Ahmed Piknjac and Asim Mrso were killed at two o'clock in the afternoon. Their bodies were found some ten days later, partly mutilated, once the Chetniks allowed us to pick them up. I knew them. I hail from the neighboring village, Ugorsko; they were from the village of Krso. They defended their village and we defended ours. Chetniks knew all of us very well. The distance between our lines was very small. They called out our names and we responded. Therefore, after the massacre in the village of Krso, they knew that we were alive. I knew Damjanovic before the war. We worked together in a factory. We didn't have any direct contacts."
Did he know that Damjanovic was tried for his "murder"?
"I read about the indictment against Damjanovic in 1992 of 1993 in some Serb newspaper, maybe Novosti. I read my name and was aware that there was a mistake there. It said that I and my brother had been murdered, but the names of our alleged murderers weren't mentioned. I hadn't approached anyone because I read about the trial in a Serb paper and no one from our side had looked for me. Then, recently, a woman showed up. She introduced herself as Damjanovic's lawyer and as a translator when she visited with the International Police. I think there's something fishy there and I refused to talk about anything."
Now that he knows about the trial, why hasn't he reported somewhere that he is alive?
"If no one seems to care about that, why should I? The Police hasn't invited me for a questioning, no one has taken our statements nor showed any interest. Had I read about the trial in some our paper, maybe I would have stepped forward and corrected the mistake. This way, why should I?"
"I only know that there is something fishy in that. Today, Serbs tried to take me to their television to say I'm alive. And they knew all the time I was alive. Ljiljan is the first paper for which I stated that."
Kasim was somewhat more cautious:
"Until recently no one cared and now everyone wants to make sure that I'm alive. Well, here I'm, judge for yourself. This week, I'm going to the Military court so that they can check."
Translated on 5/10/97