The Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, Slovakia ruled on Friday that businessman Marian Kočner was not guilty of the 2018 murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusinrova. The court ruled, however, that Alena Zsuzsová–an associate of Kočner–was guilty and sentenced him to 25 years prison.
The International Press Institute (IPI) reported live from the court, and stated that prosecutors requested life imprisonment for both Kočner and Zsuzsová. Both were already imprisoned for different crimes prior to Friday’s verdict.
Several international media organizations expressed their disappointment with Friday’s verdict and urged Slovak prosecutors to continue to find justice for Kuciak and his family. Organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), IPI and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a joint statement condemning the verdict. In it, the organizations wrote:
This repeated failure to secure the conviction of the suspected mastermind is another damaging setback in the fight against impunity for the murder of journalists in Slovakia, and in Europe. This case follows an all-too-common pattern in which the hitmen and facilitators involved in such crimes are put behind bars while the suspected masterminds who ordered the murder evade justice…Those who order the killing of a journalist cannot be allowed to act with impunity. The fight for justice will continue.
Before his death, Kuciak wrote nine stories about Kočner. According to prosecutors, Kuciak was threatened after publishing a story about Kočner’s business dealings. Shortly thereafter, in 2018, Kuciak was fatally shot in the chest and Kusinrova was shot in the head at their home in Bratislava, Slovakia. Their murders sparked protests in the country. Kočner first appeared before the Specialized Criminal Court in 2020, but the court found there was insufficient evidence for a conviction.