COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Court experts battle over defendant's alibi and claims of diminished responsibility.

COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Court experts battle over defendant's alibi and claims of diminished responsibility.

Saturday, 12 January, 2002

The trial of Mitar Vasiljevic for crimes in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, in the summer of 1992, is drawing to a close with a battle of experts.

Court experts from both prosecution and defence have presented

diametrically opposite opinions on key elements in the trial.

In the final part of its presentation of evidence, the defence last week summoned two experts to vouch for the defendant's alibi and claims of diminished responsibility at the time of crimes.

Vasiljevic maintains that on the day of the gravest crime in his indictment, the burning alive of at least 65 Bosniaks in an abandoned house in Pioneers' Street on June 14, 1992, he fell from a horse and broke his leg, after which he was transferred to hospital in Uzice in western Serbia.

Thus, he says, he could not have been present at the scene of the crime. But his defence counsel have also asserted he was in a state of reduced accountability at the time to which the indictment refers, urging the court to take this into account when making a decision.

The first defence witness, the Belgrade orthopaedic specialist Dr

Cedomir Vucetic, compared an alleged X-ray of the accused's left leg made in 1992, which the defence presented as evidence, with one made last September by a Belgian expert in the Detention Unit at the request of the prosecution.

The Belgian categorically denied they were the shots of the same leg, while the defence's expert - with the caveat that it is difficult to compare two X-rays after nine years - insisted they were the shots of the same leg.

Dr Vucetic attributed the differences in the shots to changes in the bone that took place over the nine years.

After Dr Vucetic, the defence summoned Dr Zorka Lopicic, a Belgrade psycho-pathology specialist who - based on a conversation last year with the accused and knowledge of his medical files - concluded that even before the events in Visegrad, Vasiljevic showed signs of "psychosis", and that he had "completely lost touch with reality" after hospitalisation in Uzice.

She said under Yugoslav classification Vasiljevic could be seen as having "significantly reduced accountability" before his hospitalisation and was "completely unaccountable" in hospital.

Dr Lopicic located the cause in a family history of psychiatric illness, citing his mother's and an aunt's suicides and psychiatric problems among other immediate family members.

The prosecution countered with findings from its own experts.

Contradicting Dr Vucetic, a Scottish radiology specialist, Dr Nigel Raby, last week categorically claimed the two X-rays did not show the same leg.

The battle of the experts continues next week, with testimony from Dr Vera Folnegovic Smalc, a psychiatric expert who also interviewed Vasiljevic at the prosecution's request and submitted a report.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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