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Jock Palfreeman pins appeal hopes on statement conflicts

Jock Palfreeman
Peter Wilson, Sofia - From: The Australian - November 12, 2010 10:19AM

A BULGARIAN appeals court last night confirmed there were discrepancies in evidence that helped to convict young Australian Jock Palfreeman of a 2007 murder.

Palfreeman's father, Simon, conceded last night that the comments by the appeals court judges fell a long way short of guaranteeing Palfreeman's conviction and 20-year sentence would be reviewed but he said the development was still a positive sign.

"It is a step in the right direction because we are getting confirmation now that the (murder) trial was deeply flawed," Dr Palfreeman said.

Jock Palfreeman was convicted last year of stabbing 20-year-old law student Andrei Monov to death in a drunken street clash but he has insisted he acted in self defence after going to the aid of two Roma, or gypsies, who he says were being beaten by Monov and more than a dozen friends.

Some neutral witnesses back Palfreeman's claim about the attack on the Roma but the court that convicted Palfreeman last year said there was no evidence of such an initial attack.

In last night's hearing, a Bulgarian policeman, Peter Katsarov, stood by a statement he gave five weeks after the stabbing in which he said he had been told by other police at the scene that there had been an attack on some Roma and that Palfreeman had gone to their aid.

In last year's murder trial, Mr Katsarov had dropped any reference to the Roma and he said last night that would have been because he had forgotten the details with the passage of time.

Antoan Zahariev, a 23-year-old friend of Monov who was also stabbed and wounded in the clash with Palfreeman, was also called to give evidence last night about discrepancies in his trial evidence.

Zahariev made a sworn police statement on the day of the attack saying that just before Palfreeman confronted his group of friends in the early hours of December 28, 2007, "there was already a fight between some of my friends and some other people. I believe they were gypsies, but I'm not sure."

Five weeks later, Mr Zahariev gave a second police statement backpedalling on the reference to an initial fight saying it was only "an exchange of remarks and swear words".

"The two boys, once they saw that there were a lot of us and we were walking towards them, ran away (and) we chased them for a while," he said.

When Mr Zahariev gave evidence in the trial, he said: "I don't remember there being gypsies, Roma people or other people before or after the incident."

Asked about that discrepancy last night, Mr Zahariev said he must have been still in shock when he gave his initial version of events and he was now confident that there had been no physical clash with anybody before Palfreeman suddenly confronted his group wielding a knife.

Three other witnesses who had similar discrepancies between their initial statements and trial evidence failed to appear in court last night so the matter was adjourned for two weeks to allow efforts to find those witnesses, including two former police officers.

Further appeals to a higher court are likely, either from Palfreeman or the victim's parents, who are seeking a tougher sentence of life without parole.

Krassimir Kanev, the head of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the nation's most active human rights group, insisted yesterday the initial finding that Palfreeman had single-handedly attacked Monov's group in an unprovoked way "is simply not plausible".

"It doesn't make sense that a foreigner who has come here on holidays would for no reason just pull out a knife and single-handedly attack a group of 14 or 15 men in the street," he told The Australian.

"The Bulgarian criminal justice system does not deal well with cases where there is an element of racism," he said, pointing to US and EU criticism of the legal system's treatment of Roma.

"The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Bulgarian courts in the past for not reacting properly to cases of racist violence.

"To conclude that this was a premeditated murder rather than excessive self defence means the police and prosecutors and judges disregarded the evidence that there had been an attack on some Roma."

The police did not seek CCTV footage or witnesses who might have confirmed the attack on the Roma which would have put a different complexion on the subsequent violence, Dr Kanev said.

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Appeal of Sydney Man Jailed in Bulgaria Drags On

Jock Palfreeman. Photo by BGNES
November 11, 2010

Two Bulgarian witnesses took the stand on Thursday, the second day of the appeal hearing of a 23-year-old Australian man, sentenced to 20 years in jail for murder in Bulgaria.

The two men, both policemen, Antoan Zahariev and Petar Katsarov, were asked to explain why they had said one thing in their police statements and an entirely different thing in the trial.

Zahariev confirmed that during the brawl he just heard an exchange of words, but did not witness any physical brutality. In his police statement Zahariev said that a fight between friends of his and a group of unknown people erupted on the day and site of the murder.

The witness Katsarov explained that he witnessed "a scandal" between the defendant and a group of young people, but when he moved closer to see what is going on everything was over. The policeman said it was his colleagues who told him about a group of Roma people being at the site of the murder, but when he went there they were gone.

The next hearing has been scheduled for November 25.

The Sofia Appeals Court on October 21 moved the appeals hearing to November 11, and granted the defence's request to re-examine witnesses, including police officers and another man who was wounded in the incident. The court however refused to re-examine CCTV footage or forensic evidence.

Jock Palfreeman, 23, has been kept behind bars in a Bulgarian jail after being charged with murder after an alleged street brawl in the capital Sofia at the end of 2007.

According to Bulgarian prosecutors, who asked for life imprisonment for the defendant, Palfreeman was not provoked and did not act in self-defense, as he has claimed.

Palfreeman was also found guilty of attempted murder over the alleged stabbing of a 19-year-old man during the fight.

The Sydneysider has repeatedly denied both charges, saying he was trying to defend himself from being attacked by a group of men.

According to Jock's family, friends and supporters his verdict is a "hideous perversion of justice".

Family pleased at Bulgaria killing appeal

Jock Palfreeman
November 12, 2010 - 9:49AM

The father of Sydney man Jock Palfreeman, jailed for murder in Bulgaria, says it is gratifying to have a witness at his appeal say his son was acting in self-defence.

Palfreeman, 23, appeared before the Sofia Appeals Court in Bulgaria on Thursday to appeal against his 20-year jail sentence for the murder of 20-year-old Bulgarian law student Andrei Monov in December 28, 2007.

Palfreeman has argued he acted in self-defence after witnessing a group of football fans beating up a Roma man while on holidays from his service with the British army.

A police officer witness on day two of the appeal at Sofia's palace of justice said Palfreeman went to the aid of a Roma gypsy being attacked by the youths.

The witness said he changed his original statement because he had later remembered that an eyewitness had told him that Palfreeman went to help the gypsy.

"It was quite gratifying in that ... he was told on the night by people who were there that the gang had attacked the Roma and Jock had gone to defend the Roma," Simon Palfreeman told ABC radio on Friday.

"It's been very hard on him, not only that he's been in prison for three years, but that he has had this barrage, especially from the local media, saying that he's just a wanton murderer."

The case has been adjourned until November 25 as police try to find three witnesses wanted for re-examination.

© 2010 AAP

Kangaroo court? The Palfreeman appeal

Jock Palfreeman
Fri, Oct 29 2010 by Gabriel Hershman

An Australian stabber with psychopathic tendencies currently resides in Sofia Central Jail. That, at least, is what the prosecution in the case of Jock Palfreeman would have you believe.

According to their version, Palfreeman, who was 21 at the time, unleashed a terrifying and totally unprovoked knife attack on a group of Bulgarian youths as they were returning from a night out in Sofia city centre on the night of December 28 2007.

The prosecution claims that Palfreeman first attacked Antoan Zahariev, wounding him in the chest, before stabbing and killing Andrei Monov, the son of prominent Bulgarian psychologist Hristo Monov, also the former deputy head of the child protection agency.

The motive, according to the prosecution, was "hooliganism", a word that in this context seems to be a euphemism for what they perceive to be the behaviour of a dangerous army-trained professional killer. Or, in the words of the judge, as written in his reasoning for the verdict, a man eager to "impose his concepts of justice" on a group of people that Palfreeman (erroneously in the prosecutor's view) believed to be "fascist", based solely on their boisterous chanting of football songs.

On that December night, Palfreeman had been out drinking with friends in central Sofia. It was about 1.15am when Palfreeman and a couple of friends, including one young Bulgarian man he had just met in a bar, encountered a large group of Levski fans running up from Maria Luisa Boulevard towards Vitosha Boulevard. The prosecution maintains that Palfreeman simply unleashed his attack based on his own warped misreading of the group in question. Some people, however, would query whether that "motive" is really an adequate explanation for what followed.

Palfreeman was jailed in December 2007 immediately after the incident. He was refused bail and spent two years in prison awaiting trial. On December 2 2009 he was convicted of the murder of Monov and the wounding of Zahariev. He was also ordered to pay 200 000 leva to each of Andrei Monov's parents and another 50 000 leva to Zahariev.

Shattered lives

Palfreeman has "resided" in Sofia Central Prison throughout, sharing a cell with other (non-Bulgarian) inmates, where he spends 23 hours a day. He cannot use the internet or make phone calls. His only communication with his parents in Australia is by letter. Every second and fourth Wednesday in the month he is able to receive visitors, including many Bulgarian friends. According to an Australian journalist, Palfreeman is sustained by these meetings. The young prisoner apparently prefers to keep the mood light, enjoying stories of the outside world. And, according to visitors, despite his anger at what he perceives to be a miscarriage of justice, Palfreeman still retains a deep affection for Bulgaria.

Andrei Monov, meanwhile, has a website dedicated to his memory. His funeral was attended by many prominent figures in the Bulgarian judicial system, including judges, lawyers and police. On the anniversary of his death, Hristo Monov held a commemorative vigil for his son in which he reminded the large crowd of the "evil" that had snatched his son that night. Photographs of Monov on his website show him to be a smartly dressed young man with a ready smile, a law student who aimed to follow his mother into the profession. Hristo Monov, however, has consistently refused to be interviewed by Australian media, apparently refusing to "speak to a country that produced such a monster" (as Palfreeman). In December 2009, he told The Sofia Echo that he would agree to speak to us only after all the court instances had confirmed Palfreeman's sentence.

The most visible family member during Palfreeman's incarceration has been his father Dr Simon Palfreeman, a Sydney-based pathologist who has now visited his son 25 times in the past three years. Dr Palfreeman has taken pains not to criticise Bulgaria, although the country's judicial process has shaken his faith in the system. Naturally, his son's version of what happened that winter night nearly three years ago is totally different from the prosecution's. Jock Palfreeman says that he witnessed an attack on a couple of young Roma boys. Palfreeman intervened, running over to help an injured boy on the pavement. He claims he was tending to the person on the ground when the group turned on him and began throwing concrete slabs.

The defence maintains that it was then – and only then – that Palfreeman took out a knife he had been carrying in an attempt to scare off the group who were encircling him. Palfreeman has no recollection of using the knife, but neither has he ever denied doing so. He also concedes that it was he who first approached the group of Bulgarian youths. It is what preceded the event that divides the two sides. Palfreeman maintains that he acted in self-defence after coming to the aid of the Roma boy. The Bulgarian group counters that they were defending themselves against Palfreeman's unprovoked attack.

Two eyewitnesses apparently saw an incident resembling the one at Serdika metro station as described by Jock Palfreeman. These witnesses were two guards in the car park in front of the Sheraton Hotel, about 50m from Serdika station. They testified that they saw a man being beaten. They say that they then saw another man run over and intervene. Dr Palfreeman says that the guards’ version is consistent with his son’s account.

"One of the guards says the attack on the man on the ground continued for about 30 to 40 seconds," Dr Palfreeman told The Sofia Echo in December 2009, immediately after his son's conviction. "The evidence is absolutely insurmountable that the violence was started by the group and perpetuated by the group. Jock’s intervention could have saved his (the man presumed to be a Roma) life or certainly saved him from a lot worse damage," he told us.

Sofia's appeal court has now decided to re-examine five witnesses. "These are witnesses identified by the defence as having significantly changed their stories between their police statements and evidence given in court," Dr Palfreeman told us earlier this month. "Reading of these statements was blocked by the civil claimants in the original trial but due to a change in the law this is now not possible. One of these witnesses will be one of the civil claimants himself."

However, a defence request to re-examine CCTV footage and forensic evidence was turned down.

Sofia prison
A question of character

Palfreeman has drawn more support in the Australian press than in Bulgarian media, but his case is perhaps hampered by the great distance, the lack of Australian journalists on the ground in Sofia, and the fact that the Australian government has decided not to intervene until all legal processes have been exhausted. An Australian ABC documentary, One Night in Sofia, which was broadcast in 2009 before the verdict, drew many letters of support for Palfreeman but presenter Belinda Hawkins believes that the slight "Anglicisation" of Palfreeman's manner – having spent some time in the UK serving in the British army – might have created the perception that Palfreeman was something of an outsider, even in his own country.

As noted, the prosecution cites "hooliganism" as the motive for Palfreeman's attack. But experts commissioned by the court, who conducted psychometric and psychological tests, concluded that Palfreeman was not an inherently violent person, neither did he have an aggressive demeanour in his dealings with others. One Night in Sofia also showed that Palfreeman had made many friends in Samokov where he had lived for several months in 2006. One Bulgarian woman describes him in glowing terms and sheds tears when she looks at his photograph. Court experts also described Palfreeman as socially conscious – an anti-Iraq war activist – with a keen awareness of the plight of minorities.

To the prosecution, however, Palfreeman acted like a vigilante without a cause, attacking a group of people for no good reason. This depiction of Palfreeman as a marauding thug would seem incompatible with glowing character recommendations and expert appraisals. Attacking a group of strangers is, according to Dr Palfreeman, simply not in his son's nature.

The defence also has many complaints about the original trial, questions of procedure and interpretation. Certain facts were established, however, beyond all doubt. Andrei Monov had been drinking heavily on the night – his blood alcohol content was 0.29 per cent and Antoan Zahariev's was 0.19 per cent, as opposed to Palfreeman's 0.1 per cent. Such a level of intoxication must have inevitably affected their actions that night. Then there was the mysteriously "lost" CCTV footage on the Ministry of Health's camera, the failure to cordon off the crime scene and also track down the Roma boys that the defence claim were the trigger for Palfreeman's intervention. Also at stake is the court pathologist's interpretation of the force and intent of the knife wound on Zahariev and Monov.

"A key plank of the prosecution case was that the chief pathologist characterised the knife wound as ‘forceful’, equating that with purposeful intent. When we cross-examined him we said that every textbook of forensic pathology says that a pathologist cannot be dogmatic about the force, direction or characteristic of knife wounds," Dr Palfreeman said.

These aspects of the case will not be re-examined. But the fact that pre-trial statements given by the group, which, according to the defence, conflicted with their court statements, will now be considered could provide some basis for challenging the original verdict.

Monovs want life without parole

Andrei Monov's parents, understandably grieving the loss of their son, have their own agenda. They demand that Palfreeman serve life without the possibility of parole. They believe that the original sentence was too lenient. In particular, the prosecution points to Palfreeman's decision to carry a knife as proof of his decision to engage in violence. Palfreeman's defence, on the other hand, as cited on the documentary, is that he has always had a "bad feeling" about Sofia. In particular, he explains his readiness to carry a knife by citing a murky and dangerous youth sub-culture in Sofia, as well as incidents of anti-Roma violence he has encountered elsewhere in Bulgaria.

Dr Palfreeman says his son's case has many unanswered questions and believes that there is a gaping inconsistency behind the judge's reasoning for his son's conviction. In particular, he notes that the judge acknowledged the validity of witness testimony that seemed to support Jock Palfreeman's version of events but ultimately chose only to accept the testimony of the Bulgarian football supporters as being trustworthy.

Nobody knows what the result of the appeal will be, but followers of the Michael Shields case should not expect an eventual repeat of the precedent of Shields being transferred over to his country of domicile. There is no official prospect of Palfreeman being sent back to Australia to serve the remainder of his sentence because Bulgaria and Australia do not have a bilateral agreement on prisoner transfers.

The next hearing of the appeal court is scheduled for November 11. Two days later, Palfreeman will turn 24 years of age. No doubt his family and supporters – who have held rallies and protest vigils in Australia – will be hoping that Palfreeman will not have to "celebrate" many more birthdays inside jail. Andrei Monov's parents, on the other hand, will be pressing for the maximum punishment possible. Tragically, their own son, who would have been 23 this year, is not here to tell his side of the story. The spot where he collapsed and died on Stamboliiski Boulevard is still commemorated with flowers. Unlike Hristo Monov, Dr Palfreeman still has a son to visit, albeit in a country on the other side of the world with what he regards as a deeply flawed judicial system. Ironically, however, Jock Palfreeman's fate still lies – very much – in the hands of this very system.

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