Frano Drlje, one of the two ex Croatian special policemen charged with killing five elderly Serbs in the village of Grubori, near Knin, in August 1995, has been released from custody on Wednesday.
The Trial Chamber accepted the defence’s arguments that in the course of the trial so far not enough evidence had been presented to justify keeping Drlje in custody.
“Reasonable doubt is not of that quality that would allow custody to be prolonged further, “ the presiding judge, Zdravko Majerovic, said explaining the decision to release Drlje, who was imprisoned for two and a half years.
In July, the other defendant in the trial, Bozo Krajina, was also released for on the same grounds. The prosecution appealed Krajina’s release of, but the Supreme Court quashed the appeal.
The prosecution announced it would also appeal Drlje's release.
In its request for the release from custody, Drlje’s defence argued that the main prosecution witnesses gave contradictory testimonies which did not prove the indictment.
No eyewitnesses to the crime testified, so there is no direct evidence that Frano Drlje committed the crime, argued Drlje's defence.
The murders at Grubori on August 25 and 26, 1995, are among the best known war crimes perpetrated by the Croatian forces during the country's 1991-1995 war for independence.
They were committed 20 days after Serb rule in Krajina had been crushed and fighting had come to an end.
Five elderly Serb civilians were shot dead, some of them in their beds, and the village was burned.
Ivan Cermak, then the Croatian military governor of the Knin area, has been cleared of responsibility for the crimes in Grubori by the Hague Tribunal, ICTY.
The ICTY released Cermak in April last year, declaring that he could not be held accountable for failing to prevent the crimes or punishing the perpetrators, although he had covered up the crimes in the media.
Mladen Markac, a wartime Croatian special police commander, was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment at the same trial at the ICTY, partly for war crimes in Grubori. He has appealed against that conviction.
The trial at Zagreb’s County Court started last November. Originally, a third former special policeman, Igor Beneta, was also indicted along with Drlje and Krajina and denied the charges.
Beneta was at liberty when the trial began, but was found dead three days later, hanged in a forest near Knin. The trial against Beneta was officially terminated at beginning of March.
Zeljko Sacic, a wartime Croatian special police deputy commander, was also under investigation, together with Drlje, Krajina and Beneta, for covering up the crimes in the village of Grubori.
The prosecutors, however, have separated his case from the others and have asked the police to look into Sacic's actions in more detail.
No indictment has been filed against Sacic.
The trial continues on September 25.