Appeals court in Crete reduces 18 year sentence against Mark Marku to 16 years and nine months for armed robbery. But he insists he was in Ireland when most of the crimes were committed
Mark Marku is taken out of court by prison officers (Photo: Julie Marku) An Irish woman who has been fighting to clear her husband’s name of his conviction for a number of armed robberies expressed her utter dismay at the Greek judicial system after an appeals court found he was guilty as charged.
Mark Marku’s defence insists that he was in Ireland when many of the crimes he was convicted of were committed.
“It just feels like we can’t win. No matter what we do, no matter who we bring, we just can’t seem to get the court to look at the evidence,” Julie Marku said, after a Crete appeals court Greece upheld almost all of the counts against her husband, who is originally from Albania.
“If anyone looks at the evidence they will know Mark could not have committed these crimes. The whole thing felt like a show trial to give the impression of a hearing to gloss over the injustice and imperfections of the Crete legal system with nothing actually being heard,” his wife said.
On Friday, the five judge appeals court in Irakleio reduced Mark Marku’s sentence from 18 years to 16 years and 9 months. The 12-hour session was the culmination of a lengthy appeal process beset with delays. Marku’s appeal was meant to be heard in December 2013.
“It was bizarre, because at one point we even had a glimmer of hope that if Mark wasn’t actually going to be acquitted at least he would get a substantial reduction in his sentence,” said Bill O’Reilly, Julie’s father. “Then when the judges gave the sentence the prosecutor wanted to tack on deportation to Albania.”
Two members of the Irish Innocence Project (IIP), David Langwallner and Katie O’Leary, were in attendance. The project campaigns against convictions they see as miscarriages of justice.
Langwallner said: “We in the Irish Innocence Project in conjunction with Mark Marku’s lawyer, Leonidas Pegiadis, procured two international experts to comment on Mark’s case, they were the international DNA expert, Dr Greg Hampikian, and Dr Victoria Lawson, who specialises in eyewitness ID evidence. The Irish Innocence Project also verified the documentary evidence that proves Mark was in Ireland when many of the crimes he was convicted of took place and caseworker, Katie O’Leary, gave evidence to this effect two weeks ago.”
“The judges didn’t challenge my testimony so I assumed that they accepted that Mark was in Ireland for six of the crimes but that wasn’t reflected in the sentence. I am devastated with the outcome,” said O’Leary.
On the steps of Iraklio courthouse: Back: Bill O’Reilly (Marku’s father-in-law), Leonidas Pegiadis (lawyer), Victoria Trzeciak (translator). Front: Phyl O’Reilly (Marku’s mother-in-law), Katie O’Leary (Irish Innocence Project), Julie Marku (Marku’s wife) In an ex tempore judgment without any written text, or detailed reasons given for their conclusions, the court did not advert to, evaluate or consider in a transparent manner, any of the expert evidence, the IIP said.
It added that they are “in the blind” as to whether and to what extent judges took on board the huge structural flaws it says exists in Mark Marku’s.
According to translators the state did accept his presence in Ireland for up to three of the offences and this may have led to the nominal reduction in sentence, the IIP believes.
However, Langwallner noted that the prosecutor seemed to change her argument from the initial trial and tried to portray Mark as the organiser of the robberies, despite his presence in Ireland.
“It seemed that the court completely disregarded our expert reports on eyewitness and DNA evidence which disprove the bulk of the prosecution case. The whole thing was a shambles from beginning to end and that is not even to mention the racist toxicity that pervaded the courtroom throughout,” said Langwallner.
“Meanwhile Mark is being detained in substandard conditions in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. On this experience one can have little confidence in the Greek legal system whatever political sensitivities and inter governmental relations that tramples upon.”
Marku’s lawyer, Leonidas Pegiadis, said he was extremely disappointed but says he expected this result from the presiding judge. “It is so frustrating that he ignored all the evidence but we will fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.”
After he was returned to prison, Marku said he was determined to expose the flaws in the Greek legal system.
“I am an innocent man and I will fight this all the way to Europe. I won’t give up until they say I’m innocent and I’m back with my wife and family. Exactly the same thing has happened twice now and that just makes me stronger to fight the Greek system. I think the courts outside Crete will be fairer to me.”
Mark Marku has now spent three years and ten months in prison in Greece and his appeal still hasn’t been concluded. He shares a small cell with his four co-defendants. In 2012 they were convicted for 17 to 19 years for a series of crimes including seven armed robberies. Currently the five defendants are under 23 hour lockdown and the only time they have seen fresh air in the last seven weeks was when they were moved from Alikarnassos prison to the Irakleio court on June 6.
Mark Marku and his wife Julie try to remain positive while they fight to overturn Mark’s conviction, but signs of the stress of the last four years have started to show. Mark recently contracted scabies from the unsanitary conditions in jail and has to change his bed sheets and towel at his own expense every day. The infection has spread since Mark’s initial diagnosis and the prison was criticised strongly by his doctor for failing to disinfect his cell as soon as they found out about his condition. The unsanitary conditions and lack of access to medical assistance appears to be in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhumane and degrading treatment.
Greece has received international criticism for its poor prison conditions as far back as 1969, when they were found to breach the European Convention on Human Rights. Unfortunately, things haven’t improved much over the last 55 years, as the recent budget cuts coupled with a rise in the prison population have deteriorated conditions further, in fact Greece has one of the highest rates of prison overcrowding in the EU. Amnesty International noted in its 2013 annual report that Greek prison conditions amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” by the European Court of Human Rights three times that year. The system was criticised for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and lack of facilities for exercise. These aspects bear a clear resemblance to Mark’s situation.
Mark and his fellow inmates are fed two meals a day, they have lunch at noon and then a snack of eggs or salad at 6pm. If they want anything extra they have to pay for it themselves. Controversially, the prisoners must pay for their own basic hygiene products including toothbrushes, soap and shampoo. Among his fellow inmates Mark is considered lucky that Julie has a job so she can afford the cost of these items, but many of his fellow inmates cannot afford basic hygiene and have no contact with the outside world. The Council of Europe’s European prison rules clearly state that prisoners have a right to be provided with toiletries and general cleaning implements and materials. The rules also state that lack of resources is not a justification for poor prison conditions.
Mark and his fellow inmates wear their own clothes and their families are allowed to deliver clothes and other items to them. All of the items are scanned by prison security officers and sometimes they won’t allow an item to be delivered to a prisoner. “I used to find it so difficult when they’d hand something back to me and tell me that Mark couldn’t have it for no specific reason,” says Julie. “It was a reminder of the control they have over our lives. I’ve got used to it now, but when I see women whose husbands have just arrived in prison breaking down in tears it brings it all back for me again.”
When Julie visits Mark they talk on the phone through a glass window that is covered in bars. The glass is cloudy and the phone line is poor quality; the experience is similar to talking to someone on Skype. The prison guards regularly make Julie wait outside the prison for about twenty minutes after the visit is meant to have started, meaning that they have a maximum of half an hour to talk to each other.
During his time in prison Mark has been moved on several occasions between Alikarnassos and Neapoli prisons in Crete, and Malandrino prison in mainland Greece. Mark’s unexpected move to the mainland prison last year was difficult on Mark, as Julie and Mark’s family are all based in Hersonissos, Crete. The time and financial cost to visit Mark in Malandrino severely restricted the number of visitors he received. Neapoli prison was a 20 minute drive from Hersonissos, but a trip to Malandrino prison required an eight hour ferry to Athens then a three and a half hour drive inland. Visits would last only 30 minutes, but each trip would take almost 3 days, and cost in the region of €400.
Mark also feared for his safety in Malandrino prison where conditions are dangerous and unpredictable. Three prisoners died there in the past year, and for the first time in Greece a prison guard was killed. Three months ago, Ilia Kareli, an Albanian prisoner stabbed and killed Yiorgos Tsiranis, a prison guard after Kareli was refused leave to visit his mother. Kareli was then tortured to death by a group of prison guards. The situation caused severe tension in Malandrino and surrounding prisons as news of Kareli’s death spread. In her book Prisoner’s Rights, Susan Easton notes that deaths in prison are an important indicator of the quality of a prison system. While force may sometimes be necessary for the purpose of prison security, the European Prison Rules state that force should only be used by prison guards as a last resort and that the minimum necessary force should be imposed for the shortest necessary time.
Mark and his brother Andreas, who is in prison on the same charges as Mark, note that there are many people in prison with them in similar situations. ‘There is no evidence that they committed any crimes, but they also have very long sentences,’ says Andreas. Andreas also maintains his innocence of all the offences and has evidence that he was working in Murphy’s pub in Hersonissos when all of the robberies occurred.
After Mark took to the stand at his appeal in early June he said, “Today was the first day in two and a half years that I have been able to present my case to the Greek court. Yesterday I was so disheartened and felt like giving up, but today I actually felt hopeful, especially when presiding judge Papatheodorou said in his courtroom there is no bias, Albanians will be treated the same as everyone else, and that his verdict will be based on the evidence presented. This gave me hope because if anyone looks at the evidence they will know that I am innocent.”
Outside too, Julie has not given up. Her indomitable spirit is admirable, and she continues to do everything she can for Mark despite being exhausted by her battle with the Greek legal system. It is because of Julie’s tireless campaigning that her husband’s legal defence team under respected Athenian criminal lawyer, Leonidas Pegiadis, has swelled to include world-renowned DNA expert Dr. Greg Hampikian and David Langwallner from the Irish Innocence Project, the non-profit legal organisation dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted persons. Both Hampikian and Langwallner volunteered their expertise on the Marku case. “All I want is for Mark to be free so we can restart our lives together,” says Julie, who has given up her childcare career to fight for her husband’s freedom.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust note that if you are convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term in prison, “the loss of your freedom is the punishment. The way you’re treated or the conditions in prison should not be used as additional punishment.” The conditions of Mark’s imprisonment are clearly unacceptable by international standards and aggravate the injustice that has already been done to him by the legal system.
Irish Innocence Project