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Court Upholds Sentence but Criticizes Interrogation Procedure

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Court Upholds Sentence but Criticizes Interrogation Procedure

gavel as used in courts

Photo: sxc.hu.

Iceland’s Court of Appeals admonished police for their initial interrogation of Thomas Møller Olsen, who was found guilty of the murder of Birna Brjánsdóttir and of drug smuggling on January 14, 2017, RÚV reports. Although the court has confirmed Thomas’ original sentence of 19 years in prison and says that there is no realistic possibility that he is innocent of these crimes, it did criticize police for their initial interrogation methods, which they said contravened established procedure regarding the rights of individuals who have been placed under arrest.

Thomas Møller Olsen has protested his innocence throughout the initial court case and, in September, appealed for a reduced sentence, saying that it was his shipmate who was to blame for Birna’s murder. He also claimed that he had been harassed when he was arrested and prevented from sleeping—woken every two hours, screamed at, and called insulting names by police.

The Court of Appeals confirmed that Thomas had been detained for 44 hours before being charged, during which time he was interrogated three times. After this time period, he was taken before a judge as required by law and made to submit to various biological screening and DNA tests by the police forensics unit. Police say that there is often little time in between such tests, which accounts for why Thomas was not allowed more time to rest, as does the fact that he was under strong suspicion in the disappearance of a young girl who had yet to be found by authorities. Given that the first 24 hours of a disappearance of this nature are considered to be of vital importance to an investigation, police say that this schedule was unavoidable.

The Court of Appeals underscored the importance of law enforcement always treating suspects with courtesy and respect and of insuring that their own demeanors are always calm when interacting with people under arrest. Even so, however, this did not have any effect on Thomas’ sentence, which the court upheld on Friday, November 23, namely 19 years in prison and a combined total of ISK seven million [$56,579; €49,882] paid in compensation to Birna’s parents. The prosecution originally requested a sentence of 18 years at the District Court, but Thomas received a heavier sentence, presumably because he tried to shift the blame for his crime to another person.

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