- football - France - Hooliganism - Serbia
Football 'hooligans' plead not guilty at Frenchman's murder trial
A group of 14 fans of Belgrade club Partizan stood trial in Serbia on Wednesday for the murder of Frenchman Brice Taton in the country last September, with two of the defendants declaring their innocence to the packed court.
The trial against 14 Serbian men charged with killing French football fan Brice Taton in September 2009 began on Wednesday with two defendants pleading their innocence before a Belgrade court.
The defendants face 30 to 40 year jail terms if found guilty, but two of them remain at large and are being tried in absentia. A fifteenth person stands accused of aiding the men but has been released pending trial.
The victim’s family is seeking justice for what they decry as a premeditated crime.
Taton, aged 28, and 14 other French supporters had travelled to Serbia to watch a Europa League Cup match between clubs Partizan Belgrade and FC Toulouse on Sept.17 but were assaulted with bats and steel bars just hours before the start of the event.
Taton succumbed to his injuries in a Belgrade hospital 12 days after the attack, his death sparking outrage in both France and Serbia.
'Not guilty' pleas
The trial opened with a reading of the indictments before a packed courtroom, and in the presence of Jean-François Terral, France’s ambassador in Belgrade.
Two of the defendants said they were not guilty of the charges. “I was at Obilicev Venac (the scene of the crime) for a drink and not to fight," defendant Ljubomir Markovic told the court.
“I'm sorry because a life was lost and I'm sorry to be linked (by the prosecution) in this event," he added.
Another defendant, law student Ivan Grkovic, also pleaded his innocence.
“I was not involved in the fight and I can look the parents of Brice Taton right in the eye and tell them I am not responsible for the death of their son,” he said.
Svetozar Vujacic, the lawyer for one of the two men on the run, said that “none of the accused is guilty of this crime which has unfortunately caused the death of a French citizen", and expressed concern about what he called a prevailing sentiment to condemn the men before the proceedings were underway.
The victim's family was not present at the start of the trial on Wednesday, their arrival delayed due to the disruption cuased to flights by volcanic ash from Iceland.
"We want justice,” Taton’s mother told news agency AFP before the trial. “The life of our son was stolen and our whole family was destroyed. For me it was a premeditated act, this confrontation was planned.”
The trial will resume on Thursday at 10:00am (0800 GMT).