|Date:||26 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:|
Soultana Marianou, coroner
Sokratis Tsantiris, coroner, technical advisor on behalf of the family of the victim
Eleftherios Liakopoulos, police captain
|Next hearings:||7, 14, 17 and 21 December 2021|
|Composition of the court:||Judges:|
Stavgianoudaki Eleana (chair)
Members of the jury:
Prosecutor: Sotirios Bougioukos
Day 3 – 26/11/2021 – Athens Court of First Instance, courtroom #2
The defendants in attendance were Athanasios Chortarias, owner of a real estate agency, and the 4 policemen, namely Vassilios Rousakos and Leonidas Alexandris of the Zeta Group, and David Seferis and Ioannis Tsombanis of the DIAS Group. Defendant Spyridon Dimopoulos, owner of the jewellery store, was represented by his lawyer.
Restrictions to the public’s access to the courtroom remain in place due to the measures against the spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only relatives of the victim and the defendants were allowed in the courtroom, as well as 6 mass media journalists and observers from Amnesty International, the Orlando LGBTQI+ group and ZackieOh Justice Watch.
Examination of coroner Soultana Marianou
The first witness examined on the 3rd day of the trial was coroner Soultana Marianou, who has been working for 30 years in the Athens Forensic Medicine Service. The witness had been assigned to the case during the preliminary investigation together with coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias, who was examined during the previous session of the court, and made her statement on the basis of the forensic report she had co-authored.
Witness Marianou confirmed the entirety of Mr. Kalogrias’s deposition. She noted in particular that, having excluded all other possible causes of death on the basis of the bloodwork and toxicological tests as well as the prosector’s report, the two coroners came to the conclusion that “there was a causal relationship between the recent ischemic episode and the wounds, in particular those to the head.” In answer to a question from state prosecutor Sotiris Bougioukos, she stated that Zak’s existing liver condition (steatosis), “which is common in many people”, cannot lead to a sudden death in the absence of an acute crisis, which had not happened in this particular instance. In answer to a question from one of the jurors, she explicitly excluded the likelihood that Zak had developed a pulmonary oedema independently of the ischemic episode that was caused by the wounds through pathological stress.
When questioned by lawyer for the prosecution Anny Paparrousou, witness Marianou confirmed once more that “the tests are evidence” that death did not result from some underlying illness. “We are speaking on the basis of our findings,” she said.
The defence lawyers proceeded to a series of repetitive questions to the witness around their assertions that pre-existing medical conditions and side effects of the antiretroviral treatment may have led to death in a way that simply happened to coincide with the beating. Witness Marianou excluded every one of those possibilities and stood by the conclusions of the forensic report.
Lawyer Anagnostopoulos (representing defendant Spyridon Dimopoulos) sought to connect the issue of pathological stress to the fact that the victim had broken the jewellery shop’s window. Lawyers Filos and Patalas (representing defendant Athanasios Chortarias) sought to establish that there were gaps in the forensic report, to which witness Marianou replied that all these points were addressed by the report established by prosector Eftychiadis, who will also be examined as a witness.
Defence lawyer Evita Varela, representing the four policemen, asked if pathological stress could have been caused by fear, while also falsifying the statement given by witness Kalogrias during the previous session, leading to the following exchange:
Varela: Looking at the minutes of Mr. Kalogrias’s examination, he said that [ischemia] might have begun on the previous evening.
Marianou: Did Mr. Kalogrias say such a thing?
Chair: Do not refer to our previous session, as we do not have the minutes here to verify them.
Lawyer Giannelakis, also representing the four policemen, asked his questions in an aggressive manner, telling Mrs. Marianou about the wounds described in the forensic report: “You didn’t even count them, and yet you present them as findings and those findings made six people into defendants. I said ‘the findings’, so that there are no misunderstandings.” At this point the chair intervened, telling the witness: “Do not allow yourself to be daunted by these comments. Answer as you deem appropriate.”
Commenting on the deposition, prosecution lawyer A. Paparrousou reminded the court that the coroners had concluded that all the wounds together had caused death, while C. Papapantoleon noted that Mrs. Marianou’s statement was in complete agreement with Mr. Kalogrias’s.
On the defense side, lawyer Anagnostopoulos (representing S. Dimopoulos) stated that he had come to the conclusion that the ischemic episode had begun 4 hours before death; lawyer Filos (representing A. Chortarias) noted that “the coroners didn’t know the result of the tissue examination”; and lawyer Zamanis (representing the 4 policemen) noted that the coroners confirmed “beyond any doubt that the actions attributed to the 4 [policemen] did not contribute in any way to the ischemic episode and the resulting death.”
Examination of the Kostopoulos family technical advisor Sokratis Tsantiris
The next witness examined by the court was coroner Sokratis Tsandiris, who was appointed by the Kostopoulos family as a technical advisor and was present during the autopsy.
The witness answered to the chair that a victim’s medical file is unnecessary during a forensic examination. The only point on which his report differed from the forensic report was the naming of minor bleeding in the brain as “subarachnoid hemorrhage”. He stated that this was linked to the hits Zak Kostopoulos sustained to the head and that it may have evolved into a stroke had the heart not stopped beating first due to the ischemia.
He stated categorically that the victim’s heart “was perfectly healthy, and I cannot accept that such a heart could have sustained an ischemic episode earlier.” In answer to a question from lawyer Paparrousou regarding the report provided by technical advisor P. Alexandrou (appointed by defendant S. Dimopoulos), he answered that the presence of macrophages was due to other factors and not some existing cardiac precondition. In answer to a question from lawyer Papapantoleon, he stated that the physiological stress response began with the beating and not earlier, e.g. with the fear of being trapped.
The witness subsequently answered questions from the defence lawyers, who sought to challenge his conclusions regarding the causes of physiological stress and the timing of the ischemic episode. He stood by his statement and further explained the term subarachnoid hemorrhage, stating that it is essentially the same as the bleeding to the brain described in the forensic report.
The lawyers then commented the witness’s statement. Prosecution lawyer Paparrousou noted that the 4 policemen in particular sought to establish that the blows they dealt were not the cause of death despite the fact that the three coroners examined so far were clear that the ischemic episode was caused by all the hits the victim had sustained.
Defence lawyer Anagnostopoulos commented once more that the ischemic episode could have begin much earlier, while lawyer Filios drew the conclusion that witness Tsandiris was in no position to challenge the its timing as presented by the defence. Lawyer Varela insisted that none of the blows could be linked to the policemen’s actions. She further noted that the victim could have grabbed “a large shard of glass” and wondered “how much damage he might then have caused.”
Examination of eyewitness L.D.
After returning from recess, the court proceeded to examine witness L.D., a retired policewoman and eyewitness to the events that led to the death of Zak Kostopoulos. The witness introduced herself by describing her work as a police officer in various precincts as well as in demonstrations and sporting events.
Witness L.D. was somewhat emotional as she described in great detail the beating, the kicks and the other blows that defendants Dimopoulos and Chortarias dealt to the victim. She noted in particular that she saw defendant Dimopoulos throwing at the shop window something that looked like a stone and was likely an ashtray. She first saw the jewellery store when the window was already broken as the victim sought to escape. She noted that the kicks were violent and that a passerby intervened to stop them. The witness said that he shouted: “Stop! You will kill him!”
In answer to the prosecutor’s question whether she had seen Zak holding a knife, she answered categorically “no”. She further stated that other passersby were trying verbally to restrain the attackers from continuing the beating, without, however, intervening. In answer to questions from the prosecution lawyers, she said that the victim was covered in blood and that the assembled crowd was shouting at Dimopoulos and Chortarias that they would kill him, and that, despite this, the two defendants continued hitting him.
Defence lawyers Anagnostopoulos and Filos asked that the first video, which shows the beating, be played. There, the witness recognised the person who intervened as “the gentleman with the ponytail” and identified herself. The defence team doubted her presence for the duration that she described as she did not appear in the video. They further referred to a report of the Hellenic Police which mentions finding a knife which they claimed could be seen on video material, to which the witness answered that she had seen no knife herself and that she had heard about it later. Lawyer Patalas told the witness that her statement “insulted his intelligence.”
The prosecution lawyers commented that witness L.D.’s statement is evidence of intent, as the first two defendants “were not defending themselves” and, in A. Paparrousou’s words, “wanted to punish him.” Lawyer Papapantoleon noted that “the witness describes a scene of murder, and, despite protests and admonitions by the crowd that they should stop because they would kill him, they did not stop and they actually killed him.”
The defence lawyers commented that “the witness’s statement is disproved by the video” (Anagnostopoulos), that she described things she believes to have witnessed because she is influenced by the video (Filos) and that “she isn’t stating what she witnessed but what she saw on TV” (Patalas).
Examination of witness Eleftherios Liakopoulos, police officer
The next witness examined by the court was Eleftherios Liakopoulos, a police officer currently serving in the Attica Security Directorate who was previously an assistant head of department for the DIAS group when the events of the case took place. The witness stated that he knew of the case through the videos and the descriptions provided by his colleagues who are defendants in the trial. He added that their actions “were absolutely necessary, in order to disarm and restrain [Zak Kostopoulos].”
This was followed by questions from the lawyers for the prosecution, together with a showing of the video of the arrest, during which Liakopoulos continued to affirm that use of force by the police was appropriate. He described the victim as “a person holding a shard of glass” while clarifying that he had gathered this from his colleagues’ description as the video was unclear and stated that he “did not remember if Zak was bleeding” during the arrest.
The prosecutor further asked why, as seen in the video, the police had not dispersed the crowd when they arrived on the scene, to which the witness replied that, as far as he could see on the video, they had done so.
Lawyer Papapantoleon asked the witness if his colleagues knew that the victim had been beaten by the first two defendants when they arrived on the scene and handcuffed him. Liakopoulos claimed that they didn’t know it at the time. The lawyer further asked why they deemed handcuffing him necessary since he died in their custody, which caused an angry reaction from defence lawyer Varela.
Defence lawyer Filos noted that, as a citizen of this country, he deems that events in the courtroom are “an insult to the police of our country.” Lawyer Varela asked to what extent the actions of the four policemen were in line with their training and standard protocols, to which the witness answered in the positive.
There were angry reactions in the courtroom when defence lawyer Varela exhibited a 30 cm-long shard of glass, stating that it was similar to the one the victim was holding while he was lying on the ground and that, with such a weapon, Zak Kostopoulos “could have assaulted the police.” The victim’s family left the courtroom, while his mother Eleni Kostopoulou shouted: “Of all the glass shards, is this the one you kept? Didn’t you keep those covered in blood?” The lawyer went on with her questions to Liakopoulos along the same lines. To her further questions, the witness claimed that the victim had to be handcuffed because he was not cooperating. When lawyer Varela asked if Zak was stretching out his leg, lawyer Papapantoleon intervened angrily: “he was dying, he was carried into the ambulance and he was dead, and you’re asking if he was stretching out his leg?”
Defence lawyer Giannelakis stated that the four policemen saw “an attempt at double manslaughter” by Zak Kostopoulos before their eyes and asked witness Liakopoulos if they were right to take action, to which he received an affirmative answer.
Commenting on the witness’s statement, prosecution lawyer Paparrousou noted that we are witnessing a “reversal of the facts” and that the policemen had every possible indication to understand that they were in front of a dying man. She read an excerpt of the “Police Code of Conduct” (presidential decree 254/2004, official journal A 238 3/12/2004), which refers to the obligation to use the mildest possible means and noted that the policemen should exercise their judgement and should have done so on the basis of the state of the person lying in front of them.
Defence lawyer Filos included in his comments the phrase “an attempt at double manslaughter” by the victim that had been coined by his colleague Giannelakis, noting that: “he lost his life, which is a sad event, but if he were alive he would be here sitting on the defendants’ bench for much graver crimes.” Lawyer Varela commented that the policemen acted in compliance with the law that requires them to defend third parties, as there was damage to private property. Lawyer Giannelakis reiterated in his comments the initial claim about robbery, as well as the claim that Zak Kostopoulos was in the midst of a “an attempt at double manslaughter” before the police immobilised him.
At this point the court went into recess until Tuesday 7 December, in the same courtroom.
The full text of our transcript from the courtroom (in Greek) :