Friday, December 05, 2008

Escaped Murderers in Stockholm

I’ve written about Sweden’s justice system a few times. Mostly because I find it to be a bit ridiculous. Not in that they don’t provide justice or that it’s a country full of uncontrolled criminals. The thing that gets me is the prison sentences. More specifically prison sentences for violent crimes.

So the news today caught my eye. To say the least. On Wednesday, a convicted murderer escaped in Stockholm. This man has been convicted of murder and attempted murder. And he escaped.

Now I said this news caught my eye. And an escaped murderer will tend to have that effect on people. But there were a few facts to the case that really caught my eye. And they tend to be stereotypically Swedish.

First, this man, convicted of murder and attempted murder was only sentenced to prison for 14 years in 1999. But it gets better. Because, despite being sentenced for 14 years he was eligible for parole this coming July. 2009. He was eligible for parole after ten years. Murder and attempted murder will get you ten years if you’re on your best behavior.

I know I already said this, but it gets better. When I hear of prison escapes I think of Shawshank Redemption. Or maybe some classic Alcatraz movie. You know, well planned escapes that took years to prepare. Maybe a tunnel had to be dug with a spoon. I don’t know. I’ve never escaped from prison. Stockholm’s escaped murderer didn’t have to dig a tunnel with a spoon though. In fact he didn’t have to do anything exciting at all. He just walked away.

He just melted into the crowd and got away. Because he was out running errands in Hötorget. A little shopping square in central Stockholm. Now with Christmas coming up, these little shopping squares tend to be pretty packed. There are large crowds to fight through. People selling glögg and pepparkakor. You need to have sharp elbows. A killer’s mentality if you will.

Which bring us back to our escaped murderer. Who more than most people, has a killer’s mentality. For the record, he was with two police officers acting as his guards. If that makes it any better. It seems that convicted murderers get field trips.

Our main character in this sordid little tale had already had eight field trips. Without incident. Because he had handled himself so well on the previous eight excursions, the police here in Stockholm seem surprised by his escape. Maybe he had been planning this for a while. Lulling his captors into sleep with his good behavior instead of chipping away at a tunnel with a spoon.

Regardless of his master plan, he got away. But don’t worry. They do not consider him dangerous. Because a man convicted of murder and attempted murder and then chose to escape with only about eight months left before parole is not a threat at all.

Welcome to Sweden. Where convicted murderers get field trips.

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  1. suppose a normally healthy, sane person would be unnnerved by the scenario described. but what if your new lenses enable you to see the overwhelming majority of do-gooders, average joes, just plain old friendly stockholmers enjoying one another's presence at Hötorget and the "on the road to recovery" escapee as an insignificant foggy figure in the background?

  2. and suppose sweden showed some balls and didnt let murderers walk around town on field trips.

    obviously, this is an anomaly when looking at the average swede. but thats not really the point. especially when the solution is so easy. prison is prison. not an opportunity to wander around downtown stockholm in december.

  3. What I love about Swedish criminals - (or perhaps such esteemed newspapers like Aftonbladet or Expressen) is that every time there's a trial on, or someone gets caught for some front-page worthy crime, the newspapers are quick to report how "terrible" or how psychologically stressed the perp feels.

    Who knew that getting caught after murdering someone or what have you could be SUCH an unpleasant ordeal...?

  4. Well I guess some societies actually believe most people should have a chance to a "fair" life, even if they did something unforgivable.

  5. @creep – a good point. Sometimes it seems that the well being and rights of criminals trump those of the victims. And as you point out, those newspapers you named play that angle.

    Poor poor murderers. Its not easy killing someone and getting caught.

    @isle dance – seriously. Just kind of ridiculous.

    @nevil – I can understand that. I really can. For example, some prison sentences for minor crimes in the us are just ridiculously long. But violent crimes like murder and attempted murder should mean a hard sentence. Not one that allows excursions out to town, chance of parole after 10 years, and a full sentence of 14 years.

  6. I think the sentence for murder is fine, i mean 10-14 years is a long time to think, and as everyone who has watched some movies knows, murder isnt always black and white, someone who murder another human being isnt automatically a 100% bad person, a guy who never can come back to a normal life. If we are gonna keep someone alive in a prison at least there should be a chance of him being able to go back to normal life and stop using our tax payer money. Either that, or its useless to bring murderers to prison, u might aswell shoot em directly.

    What i dislike though is how people who cant change gets treated. If someone murder, go to prison, then murder again when he gets out, that guy should be put away litterally for life. He should have used up all his chances, he shouldnt be welcome back to the society, instead get treated like the dog he is.

  7. Anonymous:
    So I would assume that the person who is killed by the guy who gets a second chance may not agree with your statement

  8. I don't think harshen the penalites for murder has any point. It is hard to say that 10, 20, 50 or 100 years makes a difference. At least with 10 or 20 years there is some hope to get back to a normal life. It is still a very harsh penalty to pay.

    Relatively low penalties for murder is not something specific to Sweden. Most EU countries have 10-25 years for murder. Norway has even lower. Also, if one suspects that the person will never adapt and would be a danger to society, there is always the possibility to lock people away for life. In practice this means minimum 18 years, but mostly considerably longer.

    For society, I think it is more important to deal with the small crimes, to show that crime is not acceptable. It would also be great if they doubled the sentences for each crime you commit.

  9. How would you feel if it was your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your son or your daughter that this person killed?And he is out shopping in Stockholm? Don't think i would be ok with that. If he took a loved one away from me, i don't think he deserves to have a "normal" life, he didn't let that person have a life at all!!

  10. Well, it is good that the courts don't listen to the relatives of the victim then. Punishment is not about vengeance, and should not be.

  11. @anonymous – 10-14 years for taking someones life just doesn’t seem like a very long time to me. A person is dead. And Id like to think that is worth more than 10-14 years. Plus the collateral damage. The pain and suffering of everyone that person loved and was loved by. I can’t explain it, but 10 years isn’t enough.

    @anonymous – indeed.

    @jesper - I guess for some people though there is a question if someone who took the life of another person really deserves to go back to a normal life.

    And you’re right, I understand that these low penalties aren’t unique to Sweden. In fact, I think Norway had a similar case of a guy escaping while out on his little excursion from prison.

    Id like to point out though that I find it interesting that “life” is a minimum of 18 years. That’s a damn short life.

    In terms of the sentences rising as more crimes are committed. California has a three strikes law. And by the third crime convicted you are sentenced to life in prison. This leads to some ridiculous sentences where someone will be sentenced to 25-life for shoplifting. And that’s just a bit ridiculous in my opinion.

    That being said, Im all for raising the punishment as more crimes are committed. Just not sure that Californias is really the way to go.

    @anonymous – an interesting point. Because obviously there is a personal aspect to all of this.

    @jesper – what exactly should punishment be about? I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but Id like to hear what you consider punishment. Is it to teach a lesson? To rehabilitate? Revenge? Safety of society?

  12. @ hairy swede: yes the california style of three strikes is a bit ridiculous, but a more sensible approach is to divide between crime categories, e.g. violent crimes, non-violent crimes and petty crimes, and double the penalty for each crime in each category.

    18 years seems low, but most lifers serve a lot longer, some will never get out. It is the mangnitude of the murder and the danger to society that governs if a court will put a time limit on a life sentence.

    Imo time limited sentences is both about rehabilitation, setting an example and punishment. I simply don't think it will do society any good to see the punishment as a vengeance only.

  13. A lady i knew in Virgnia got only four months for meeting with a hitman(read undercover cop)twice to arrange the killing of her husband. And she found Jesus while in jail!

  14. @jesper - I would agree with that. I think though that for the family and friends of a loved one that is a tough realization. on an individual basis that has to be rough, but overall, I htink that vengence shouldn't really play a role.

    @anonymous - I would imagine prison would allow you to find all kinds of stuff. jesus included.

  15. Well, we'd like to try and get the convict to adapt to life on the outside before releasing him.

    Long sentences tend to make people institutionalised (hope I got that right) I remember hearing of an ex convict, who now doesn't commit crime anymore, who visits convicts in jail in order to try and get them see another life than the one in jail.

    He's been so many years behind bars, that he has to fight the urge to commit a crime just to get back to jail.

    They've commited crimes yes, but they're still human beings.

  16. Didn't Sweden just decide to build a new jail that is underground? It seems highly secure. What has me concerned is jail profiteering stories coming from the US right now, so i hope the jails in Sweden are not privitized. It is scary to think that there are some people in the world who look at a bunch of kids playing and all they see are $oldier$ and jailbirds

  17. @mattias - thats a good point. but I feel like there has to be better ways of doing that than taking them out in the middle of crowded shopping markets. the story about the ex-con is quite interesting. those are the kinds of things that I would much prefer over field trips.

    @anonymous - Ill be honest, I have no idea about that. haven't heard or read anything about it. anyone else got anything on that story?

  18. I know vengence isn't a good thing, but really, if someone you loved was killed you can't tell me you wouldn't want to see that person suffer some....?

  19. oh on a personal level... hell yes.

    it seems though that in Sweden, often times the victim, especially dead ones,take a backseat to the rights of the criminal.

    and honestly, I just don't really understand.

  20. How will the victim and its family have a better life just because the criminal is put to jail for 50 years instead of (for example) 14?

  21. (I say this kindly, with respect...)

    From my experience, those with liberal beliefs/political leanings sometimes ((only)) feel sympathy for those in trouble (criminally or not).

    I feel deep sympathy for those in trouble, too.

    But I think it's imperative that we protect each other from those causing harm, too. Otherwise, we are supporting further harm. And putting our loved ones at risk of being harmed. (Would you send your child into the arms of a rapist? Because you feel sympathy for the rapist? I hope not. But I know far too many who would. And we're supposed to know better than that.)

    If rehabilitation is ever possible, wonderful. But that must be proven. And if it's not, the individual causing harm should be placed where they can no longer cause harm.

  22. The punishments criminals get (in my opinion) is not there for making sure each victim feels satisfied. To do that the sentence would need to change for each victim since we are all different and want different levels of "revenge".

    No, the punishment is there to mark that the criminal did something that society doesn't approve of. It is not there as a way of revenge for the victim.

    Sadly that will some times leave the victims unsatisfied with the punishment.

  23. Nevil - If your cousin raped you and your family felt sorry for him and continued their close bond with him, would you prefer they keep that bond with him for 14 years or for 50? Might you sit there wondering why nobody seems to care about what happened to you?

  24. @nevil – peace of mind, lets stick with murder her for an example, but the peace of mind in knowing that the person that took away your loved one, forever, will at least be behind bars and have their freedom taken away. Which is still much less than having completely taken a life in my opinion.

    @isle dance – I agree. And well said. Or written. Or typed. Anyway. I agree.

    @nevil – honestly, I would be ok with every crime having a unique punishment. One that took into consideration the extuanting circumstances. One that took into account the cruelty involved. Or the self defense involved. It would probably make for a much fairer system.

    @isle dance – and that’s what it comes down to sometimes. Those individual examples. They are tricky.

  25. @ Hairy Swede - I agree with you here! I completely believe that the Swedish justice system pays more attention to the right of criminals instead of the victims! I will NEVER understand that. I may have a skewed vision about this, but I believe that if someone broke into my home to do something (who cares what, he broke into my home), that at that very moment, the criminal loses his rights and the rights of the homeowner should be to fully protect themselves and their family. There were people talking about personal safety at my daughter's school... They were told that the law states you can only use the force necessary to get away from your attacker. You can't use Mace or a stun gun, or excessive force. Here's my beef, if someone is going to try and attack me, I'm going to fight for my life, I don't know what this person was planning to do to me and you only have a matter of mere seconds to decide how to defend yourself. If I had a only my key chain in my hand, I would instinctively try to poke the person on the eye with my key, to bring them down and give me a chance to run for dear life. What I've been told is that here in Sweden, that act of self defense could land me behind bars. Even though I was the intended victim of the crime, who had the sense enough to fight her way out of it. I could rant on forever about these types of issues, but I think you get my point that I think the "justice system" here is truly in need of an overhaul!

  26. @ hairy swede: you are allowed to defend yourself and you home as long as you use reasonable countermeasures, i.e. you cannot shoot somebody for slapping you in the face, but if you believe your life is in danger then you are allowed to do whatever it takes to counter the danger. Of course if you have mace or a gun without license you may be charged for illicit gun possession, but that's another issue.

  27. @angelica - this sort of thing always reminds me of the movie with jim carrey in it when he cant tell a lie. I seem to remember him being a lawyer and having a case where a criminal sues the person whose house he is trying to break into because he hurts himself. and wins. granted a movie. and a kind of stupid one at that. but still.

    criminals sacrifice a whole lot of rights when they decide to break the law in my opinion.

    @jesper - thanks for the clarification. good info there.

    what is the exact law on pepper spray and mace? you need to register it?

  28. @hairy: mace and pepper spray are totally forbidden. colour/skunk spray are allowed; they don't paralyze the assailant, only gives a really bad odour and makes identification possible. rifles are permitted if you hunt, and hand weapons are allowed if you belong to a shooting club.

  29. It's interesting to note that economic and tax crime sentences can be quite harsh ;). Guess it's because it's considered "crime against the state".

    Even blatant murder isn't always as simple as "punishing the culprit" (not saying this shouldn't be done). Who bears responsibility for children growing up without a hope for the future and/or in an environment that condones violence? And in response to "Wouldn't you want to see the ones who hurt loved ones suffer?". Of course. And I believe this is quite possibly the reason that justice systems developed in the first place - to avoid things like feuds and ever-escalating violence spirals by having agreed upon punishments imposed by a (ideally) objective arbitrator.

    As an aside, I think it's interesting how loss of life is considered untolerable in some cases, but accepted - if reluctantly - in others for practical reasons (eg. trafic safety - how much is a life worth in money?). Also, we are more or less idly watching as people die of starvation, lack of clean water, easily preventable diseases etc. About 26,500 children die each day from these kind of causes - deaths that could have easily been prevented in a "developed" country. What about their families? Who should they blame?

    PS. Sorry for the ranty and somewhat incoherrent comment, been up too long.

  30. @jesper - thanks, I knew the laws about firearms but wasnt sure how it worked with mace and pepper spray. I remember seeing a sign at the airport one time that was specifically mentioning mace and pepper spray but I just kind of assumed that was because we were in an airpor. maybe not I guess.

    @asura - thats a good point, some economic crimes will get you the same time as other crimes against person.

    and youre also right about the value of life. everyone will value it differently. and some people or organizations put a higher price on it while others don't care. its a tricky subject really. but an interesting one.

  31. Regardless of this long discussion about Swedish «kriminalvård» (vård=care), one thing irks me to pieces: Name/picture isn't published in the media when a dangerous criminal has escaped or is at large after a crime. It seems our constitution cares more about protecting the criminal's integrity than the public's safety.

    Hence we also get all those stupid-looking headlines, when they have a high-profile case like «33-åringen» after the Palme-murder, and «Nöjesprofilen» in the Billy Butt case. You guys may not remember that, but it was hilarious ... the latter, that is.

    This comment -- and I realize that -- has nothing to do with the guy who escaped on Hötorget. I've read all the comments, some I agree with and others not, most have been said anyways. All systems lack perfection, Sweden AND the US.

  32. that is something that has always driven me crazy too. I dont get it. I feel like it would be beneficial to all involved to publish some sort of photo.