|Date:||9 November 2021|
|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, six journalists, one representative of Amnesty International, one representative of the “Orlando LGBTQI+” group and two observers. Photojournalists are not allowed to cover the trial.|
|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:||Examination of witnesses from the list included in the referral order, namely witness Sp. (an acquaintance of the victim) and witness Nikolaos Kalogrias (coroner)|
|Next hearings:||26 November 2021|
|Composition of the court:||Judges:|
Stavgianoudaki Eleana (chair)
Members of the jury:
Prosecutor: Sotirios Bougioukos
Day 2 – Tuesday 9 November 2021 – courtroom #2
The defendants in attendance were the 4 policemen (Vassilios Rousakos and Leonidas Alexandris of the Zeta Group, and David Seferis and Ioannis Tsombanis of the DIAS Group), as well as Athanasios Chortarias, owner of a real estate agency. Defendant Spyridon Dimopoulos, owner of the jewellery store, was represented by his lawyer.
Renewed request for a public trial
At the onset of the day’s hearing, the lawyers for the prosecution presented the court with a letter from the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) with a request to have the trial transferred to a larger courtroom in order to ensure the public character of the procedure. Following a proposal by the prosecutor, the court resolved to allow two additional journalists to enter the courtroom for a total of six, on the grounds that securing a different courtroom is not possible.
The process began with the roll call of the witnesses for the prosecution. The defendant policemen further appointed Zamanis Athanasios as their third lawyer. The president noted that adequate equipment was available to view video footage.
Reading of the sworn statement provided by witness S.B.
The statement of witness S.B. was subsequently read. According to lawyer Varela, who asked that the statement be read prior to the examination of witnesses, it lays out the medical history of Zak Kostopoulos and the amount of alcohol he had consumed on the night preceding the facts. The lawyers for the prosecution countered that the toxicological tests came back clean and that medical data cannot be called into question.
Lawyer Filos argued that the witness statement’s details are critical because they point to a man who was dizzy, who vomited twice after consuming low-alcohol content, which would indicate underlying disease, and that the coroners should be interrogated about health conditions that may lead to such behavior.
Examination of witness Sp.
Witness Sp. testified that she is a teacher, that Zacharias Kostopoulos’s brother was her student and that she had met Zak through animal welfare groups when he had lost his dog in June 2018. Throughout their communications they discussed, among other things, the theatrical play in which he participated. He also read a number of texts to her.
Regarding the case file, she stated that a few hours before the fact they had been chatting on the phone “about this and that” but that she soon realized that Zak was scared and that he wanted someone to talk to. Z. Kostopoulos was in Omonia and asked her not to hang up. She heard him tell someone: “Sir, can I ask you something?”, after which the call was cut off and he did not call her back. Regarding the previous night, she testified that he told her that he had drunk two or three beers. The witness also stated that, besides HIV and a sexually transmitted disease, the victim had no other health issues. She stated that she never saw the video footage of the murder as she couldn’t bring herself to do it. However, she was aware of the circumstances.
During their examination of the witness, the defense lawyers focused on Zak’s health and asked about his low volume of packed red cells, the symptoms of tachycardia and fatigue that he sustained and his propensity to sweating and to alcohol dependence. The witness stood by her answer that Zak had only drunk a couple of beers and insisted that she would be in no position to determine in medical terms if he had tachycardia, adding: “I also have tachycardia at the moment”. Emphasis was also placed on Zacharias Kostopoulos’s collapse during a stage performance at the Onassis Foundation, with the defense lawyers claiming that the witness was revising her previous statement and was seeking to downplay Zak Kostopoulos’s health problems.
With regard to the statement, lawyer for the prosecution A. Paparrousou commented that the narrative supported by the defense regarding alcohol dependence was expected. She emphasized: “I appeal to you, Madam President, ladies and gentlemen of the court and the jury, never to lose sight of the horrible manner in which Zacharias Kostopoulos died, because this is why these defendants are on trial. Zak himself will not go on trial for drinking a couple of beers or for drinking at all”. Lawyer K. Papapantoleon added that “when witnesses add elements to their statement during the trial, it does not mean that they are changing it altogether. Given the pressure she is sustaining, the core of everything the witness said today remains unchanged.”
The defense lawyers asked for the victim’s complete medical records to be brought forth so as to determine whether he had health issues and stressed that he appeared to be a sickly person who suffered from severe liver disease and that even a small amount of alcohol could lead to his sudden death.
Examination of coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias
The coroner appointed during the preliminary investigation, Nikolaos Kalogrias, was subsequently examined as a witness. When asked by the chair to define liver steatosis and whether it can cause death, he replied that in no case can it cause sudden death, nor can it lead to ischemic lesions. Regarding the definition of ischemic lesions, he explained that it is a state of reduced oxygenation of the myocardium, in other words, what is commonly known as a heart attack, and that it is the most common cause of death. He replied that, in order to compile his forensic report, he did not need to review the deceased’s medical file, that the forensic investigation is based on objective findings and that if anyone suffers from heart disease, it will appear in the forensic examination.
He further explained, answering a related question, that pulmonary oedema was not the cause of Zak’s death. Regarding which specific injuries led to ischemic lesions, he explained that “there are often multiple injuries among which one turns out to be fatal. This was not the case here. In this case, Zacharias Kostopoulos had an ischemic attack after sustaining multiple injuries. We can exclude any other factors that may lead to ischemia, there are no other parameters to consider, whether pathological or toxicological. Liver steatosis is irrelevant to the facts, he suffered from it beforehand as well”.
When asked if, in his 22 years of experience, he had ever seen an ischemic attack come about in this way, he answered that most cases involve people who have ischemic heart disease, which is uncommon but certainly not unheard of in forensic science. He had seen himself another three or four cases which involved fewer injuries sustained in a beating where the victim died in a similar manner.
Regarding the issue of medical stress mentioned in the forensic report, he replied that it is a physiological process in which the body tries to cope with certain situations and that it may trigger an effect on the myocardium. He stated that “his death resulted from ischemia caused by the injuries he had sustained in various ways”, while he explained that the coroners conducted a second set of toxicological tests in order to establish quantitative measurements. This showed the presence of ibuprofen in normal therapeutic dosage, while no toxic substances were detected.
When asked if the fact that the person “suffered from AIDS” and was receiving antiretroviral treatment could in any way change the conclusions reached, he answered in the negative.
This was followed by the screening of the video footage, as requested by lawyer Anagnostopoulos, who emphasized that the witness should identify the injuries that caused Zak’s death, asking whom was hitting the deceased and in which exact body part. The coroner replied that forensic examination cannot replace the investigative procedure. “You want to substitute the medical examiner for an eyewitness, this cannot be done,” he said, and added that it is not possible to quantify which injury caused death, stressing that, as coroners, his team officially concluded that all injuries, regardless whether they were caused in particular by glass shards or through blunt trauma, contributed as a whole to Zak’s death.
At this point the prosecutor intervened, saying that the coroner is not an eyewitness and that it is not his place to determine which body part was struck by whom, while the chair also added that the coroner cannot draw such conclusions. The latter commented that if coroners start making assumptions, they will lose all credibility. This was followed by a series of questions about pulmonary oedema and the presence of macrophages and the possibility that they pre-existed, with lawyer Anagnostopoulos citing excerpts and bibliography and the coroner insisting on his initial answer regarding his findings and conclusion that any other cause of death should be excluded.
Defense lawyer Filos focused on those injuries whose cause was attributed to a blunt instrument in the report, asking if, in the absence of the remaining injuries, they could activate the stress response. The witness answered that all 17 injuries contributed to this. The lawyer commented that “you are not answering a trivial question, 6 people are on trial, and this did not happen because of a nasty prosecutor, they are being tried because of what you said”. There was tension at this point, with the coroner demanding that the lawyer recall and that the process be terminated; he emphasised that he, as a coroner, had never been accused of bringing defendants to trial in his 20 years in the profession. Proceedings were paused, after which the lawyer stated that there had been a misunderstanding and that he had not wished to offend the witness but rather to emphasize the importance of his forensic report. The witness commented that “expert opinions are assessed freely [by the prosecutor] and it was his assessment that brought us here; the way you expressed yourself was inappropriate and vilifies me in the eyes of the defendants.” The lawyer recalled his comment and asked further questions regarding the injuries and the possibility of pathological stress, with the witness insisting on his initial answer and emphasizing that “his heart was a healthy heart, with no signs of ischemic heart disease, we found nothing to justify ischemia. This man could not have had an ischemic attack because his heart was healthy”.
A series of questions followed concerning the possible side effects of the pharmaceutical substance ibuprofen and whether they could include oedema, allergic reactions, ischemic strokes and death. The coroner answered repeatedly that the concentration of ibuprofen that was found was therapeutic, that no one has ever died from taking ibuprofen and that it is not possible to blame sudden death on a painkiller. In his own words: “do you mean to say that, if someone who was injured in a car accident died a few hours later and aspirin was found in their body, we should attribute their death to aspirin? We found zero signs of toxicosis.”
The defence attorneys went on with further questions regarding the injuries, the possibility of that liver damage or arrhythmias may have led to death, the issue of whether the coroner could rule out any other possibility. The coroner answered emphatically that “the histopathology report that I conducted rules it out; you are asking me if I am ruling out any other possibility, but the examination itself rules it out.”
After the witness’s statement concluded, lawyer for the prosecution K. Papapantoleon noted that “what the expert stated repeatedly, thoroughly and adamantly – mainly adamantly – is that Zak Kostopoulos did not die because he had taken ibuprofen or painkillers, nor did he die because he’d had a couple of beers. There is only one cause to his death, and that is the beating inflicted upon him by all of the defendants. Nothing else came to pass in between, there is no other cause. I can tell you with certainty, he had no other reason to die, other than the blows”.
Defense lawyer Anagnostopoulos commented that the coroner reached his conclusions through “an elimination process” and that the defense team, for their part, sill argue that he did not evaluate the pulmonary oedema properly. They requested that prosector Ch. Eftychiadis be called as a witness to evaluate this finding.
The request was accepted by the court.
At this point the court adjourned and will resume proceedings on Friday 26 November 2021 in the same courtroom.
The full text of our transcript from the courtroom (in Greek) :