IN: On December 2 2009, Australian Paul ‘Jock’ Palfreeman was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of the first-degree murder of Bulgarian law student Andrei Monov in 2007.
Photo: Georgi Kozhouharov
OUT: Liverpool football club fan Michael Shields, who was convicted in Bulgaria in 2005 of attacking Bulgarian bartender Martin Georgiev during a street brawl, was happy to leave Thorn Cross Young Offenders Institute in Warrington, northern England, on September 9 2009.
Two high-profile cases captivated the media. One concerned a Liverpool supporter, Michael Shields, now a free man. The other involved Paul ‘Jock’ Palfreeman who still languishes in Sofia Central Prison. Self-defence or unprovoked attack? To critics, the entire judicial process surrounding the conviction of young Australian Paul "Jock" Palfreeman seemed to embody many of Bulgaria’s perceived shortcomings. These included alleged discrimination against Roma, the purported aggressive behaviour of football fans, reported lapses in court procedures, inconsistencies in testimony and mysteriously "evaporating" CCTV evidence.
Add to that an Australian defendant whom some said bore an uncanny resemblance to Matt Damon - lauded as a hero by his supporters but a "professional killer" by others – and it has the hallmarks of a future film.
The tragedy unfolded on December 28 2007 when Palfreeman, then 21, was involved in a street brawl in Sofia that ended with the death of Andrei Monov, a law student and son of distinguished Bulgarian psychiatrist Hristo Monov, and the wounding of 19-year-old Anton Zahariev. That much, at least, is beyond dispute. The circumstances leading up to the altercation, however, are fiercely contested.
Palfreeman had claimed he was trying to defend himself from a group of football supporters when he intervened after seeing them attack two Roma. Palfreeman claimed that the gang subsequently turned on him, pelting him with bricks, and that he had used the knife in self-defence.
The prosecution said that the alleged Roma "victim" did not exist and that Palfreeman had simply launched an unprovoked and savage attack on innocent passers-by.
Meanwhile, long before the verdict, an Australian TV documentary depicted the Bulgarian capital as a violent city enflamed by racism against Roma. The programme also presented an unflattering view of Bulgaria’s criminal justice system. A prominent Bulgarian political scientist even described it as "normal" that the deceased’s family − and in this case one so prominent as the victim’s father − would "pressurise" the system.
On December 2 2009, despite protests from international observers, Palfreeman was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of the first-degree murder of Monov.
After the verdict, Palfreeman’s father, pathologist Dr Simon Palfreeman, told journalists that the process was flawed. "The sentence was delivered following an investigation marred by a number of procedural violations," he said. Among innumerable grievances, Dr Palfreeman expressed concern that the court had ignored pre-trial witness statements and psychological evaluations of his son.
Andrei Monov’s father, psychiatrist Hristo Monov, said the court had conducted itself properly and "in any other country Palfreeman would have already been handed the harshest sentence".
With an appeal pending, it seemed certain that the Palfreeman case would remain in the public eye.
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