|Date:||20 October 2021|
|Location:||Location: Athens Court of First Instance, Degleri street, courtroom #2|
|Access:||Access to the courthouse was limited due to measures against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. No audience was allowed in the courtroom with the exception of the victim’s family, four journalists, one representative of Amnesty International, one representative of the “Orlando LGBTQI+” group and one observer. The request for photojournalists to attend the trial was denied.|
|Defendants in attendance:||Athanasios Chortarias, owner of a real estate agency|
Vassilios Rousakos, police officer, Zeta Group
Leonidas Alexandris, police officer, Zeta Group
David Seferis, police officer, DIAS Group
Ioannis Tsombanis, police officer, DIAS Group
|Process:||Composition of the court, reading of the register of witnesses and defendants, request by the lawyers for the prosecution to move the trial to a larger room, request to be able to display video material, request for coverage by photojournalists, selection and swearing-in of jurors, reading of the charges, request by the lawyers for the prosecution to change the charges to manslaughter with possible intent, request by the lawyer for defendant A. Chortarias to postpone the trial due to crucial evidence (under art. 352 of the Criminal Procedure Code), witness statements.|
|Next hearings:||9 November 2021|
16 November 2021
Day 1, Wednesday 20 October 2021
The trial of the 6 defendants charged with causing deadly bodily harm to Zak Kostopoulos/Zackie Oh began at the Athens Court of First Instance. All defendants were in attendance with the exception of Spyridon Dimopoulos, owner of the jewellery store.
Those present were: policemen Vassilios Rousakos and Leonidas Alexandris (Zeta Group), David Seferis and Ioannis Tsombanis (DIAS Group) as well as realtor Athanasios Chortarias.
The three judges for the trial are:
Stavgianoudaki Eleana (chair)
Prosecutor: Bougioukos Sotirios.
Beginning of the procedure and requests
The process began with a request from the prosecution to move the trial to a larger room, in order to ensure the public character of the trial under pandemic conditions. There was also a request from the defendants to be able to show video material, which the prosecution attorneys supported.
The request for a larger courtroom was rejected by the court on the grounds that, due to the fact that the judges are not exclusively allocated to this case, they will be able to gather and hold hearings at most 8-10 times a month and that those days that may coincide with other trials in other chambers. The president characteristically stated that “we have no intention to limit the public character of the trial, we do not wish to exclude anyone; however, we do want to comply with the ministerial decree [regarding Covid prevention measures].”
However, a little later, the request submitted by photojournalists to cover the trial was also rejected. The lawyer of the accused police officers, Konstantinos Giannelakis, argued that “they would be exposed due to their profession, they have families” and that the court would be responsible if they were to suffer damages in the future, although the photojournalists explained that they are bound by a code of conduct and that they will not shoot or publish photos of defendants or witnesses who do not wish it. The prosecutor proposed that the request be rejected and that more journalists be allowed in instead, so as to satisfy the requirement for the trial to be held in a public fashion.
In the end, only one representative of the JackieOh Justice Watch monitoring initiative, one representative of Amnesty International, one representative of Orlando LGBTQI+ and four journalists (on a rotating basis) were allowed inside the courtroom.
Four jurors were drawn, selected and sworn in: Papatheodoropoulos, Tsimbouraki, Georgaki, Fili.
As the defendants made their statements, their lawyers caused tension in demanding that their full personal information not be recorded. Police officers Rousakos, Seferis, Tsombanis and Alexandris pleaded not guilty, while the lawyer of Sp. Dimopoulos [the jeweller] stated on behalf of his client, who was absent, that “he denies the accusation, the situation matched the criteria for legitimate self-defence.” The indictment charges were then read out.
The lawyers for the prosecution requested that the charge be converted to manslaughter with possible intent and submitted their application verbally as well as in writing, detailing how the facts fall under relevant legal stipulations and the reasons why this particular offense should be considered.
The defendants’ lawyers reacted to this. Anagnostopoulos stated that “all the issues that are being raised have been addressed in the relevant decision, which is irrevocable”; Mr. Filos claimed that “they have filed a lawsuit against my client, Mr. Chortarias, that was dismissed; therefore its constant repetition must also be dismissed”, while Mrs. Evita Varela (who is also a lawyer for the accused police officers) said that “this is an attempt to create an impression of guilt, to make these policemen defendants whereas they were not even present.” The court reserved the right to consider the request at a later stage of the trial.
Subsequently, Mr. Filos, on behalf of defendant Athanasios Chortarias, submitted a request for postponement of the trial on the grounds of the pending issue of possible prosecution against four other police officers and a paramedic from the National First Aid Centre, who are called upon as witnesses in the current trial.
The prosecutor proposed that the request be rejected and that the witnesses be duly summoned, as “we will examine the facts in the case that is of concern to us; their own testimony as witnesses will never be used in another trial.” The court rejected the request.
The request of both sides to be able to show audiovisual material was accepted with the chair stating that “screening will be allowed. We will do our best to submit requests every time in order to secure equipment from our services, and as a last resort there will be a laptop.”
Examination of witnesses
The evidentiary process began with the examination of the relatives of Zak Kostopoulos / Zackie Oh.
The victim’s father, Efthymios Kostopoulos, was first to testify, emphasizing, among other things, that Zak Kostopoulos was against violence, that he was employed and that he had no health problems. He categorically stated: “From the moment we were told ‘Zacharias did a robbery’ we didn’t believe it. […] I wish he was a robber, that he was the defendant here as a robber and that he was alive.”
The defense lawyers’ questions focused on Zak Kostopoulos’s HIV-positive status and the fact that he might have been holding a knife. At this, Efthymios Kostopoulos answered that no fingerprints of the victim were found on the aforementioned knife and stressed that Zak could not possibly have made such a move against others. What he saw in the video recordings was “people kicking and crushing him.”
The next witness to testify, Zacharias Kostopoulos’s brother Nikos, referred to the slow and incomplete course of the investigation and the hearing process after the fatal beating. The lawyers for the defense asked him questions about the victim’s past rather than the events surrounding his murder. In addition to the medical history of the deceased, for which they requested detailed reports for each period of his life, they asked questions about whether he was consuming alcohol or drugs, despite the fact that the victim’s toxicological tests showed that he had not consumed substances or alcohol that day.
The witness described in detail the investigations that he had had to conduct himself, both in Gladstonos street in order to find witnesses, and for the technical aspect of the case to find video material, when he had to turn to the Forensic Architecture research team to collect it. As he pointed out, this task should have been conducted by the police, but it was never done. Referring to the people he tried to approach in shops nearby the scene of the deadly beating, he stressed that they told him that his brother had committed suicide and sent him away.
Regarding the fact that Zak Kostopoulos entered the jewellery store, he emphasised: “He was scared. He had been attacked many times in the past and my brother used to say ‘I run away fast’. He was often attacked. He had been attacked in the past, he had been beaten in Patision avenue by fascists. He was afraid, he had been subjected to a lot, both verbally and physically. He always had in mind that something might happen to him. Someone scared him and he tried to find a safe place. And he found the wrong place.”
The last witness to testify, Zak Kostopoulos’s mother, described the personality of the victim, emphasizing that he had never been violent in his life. She referred to his concerns as an activist, which he put into practice with his attitude towards life, as well as the fact that he was very active in his professional journey in drama, article-writing and book translations. Finally, she requested that the court ask the defendants, when the time comes for them to stand in the dock, why they acted with such hatred and violence towards her child. In her own words: “They could lock him in and wait. Now Zacharias would be here and he would tell us himself why he went in there, instead of being in a dank grave. You must grant justice. For your children and grandchildren.”
None of the lawyers addressed questions to this witness.
The next hearings are set for 9 and 16 November in the same courtroom.
The full text of our transcript from the courtroom (in Greek) :