Fritz Moen

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Fritz Moen's tombstone, surrounded by John Christian Elden (defender during reopening of the case) and Tore Sandberg (private investigator)

Fritz Yngvar Moen (December 17, 1941 – March 28, 2005) was a Norwegian man wrongfully convicted for two distinct felony murders, serving a total of 18 years in prison. After the overturn of the conviction an official inquiry was instigated to establish what had gone wrong in the authorities' handling of the case, and on June 25, 2007 the commission dealt a crushing blow to both the police, the prosecution and the courts in what was immediately termed the largest justice scandal in Norway of all time.

Moen was deaf with a severe speech impediment. He was also partly paralyzed, but had normal intelligence and good memory.

Initial conviction and sentencing[edit]

He was convicted for two separate rapes and murders, both in Trondheim:

  • Torunn Finstad, who was reported missing on October 4, 1977 and was found dead on October 6, 1977, having been raped and strangled. Moen was indicted by a Frostating court for the crime on April 11, 1978. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on May 29 the same year. This sentence was reduced to 16 years on appeal.
  • Sigrid Heggheim, who was found dead in September 1976. She had been strangled and an attempt had been made to rape her. The same court indicted Moen for murder and attempted rape on September 15, 1981, and on December 18 he was convicted and sentenced to an additional 5 years. An appeal was rejected.

The prosecuting authorities relied on Moen's confession to the murders, a confession that appears to have been coerced by way of intimidation.

Biological samples were collected at both crime scenes and tested with available technology at the time but the samples were then lost and destroyed for reasons that remain unclear.

When Moen was convicted, his defense lawyer, Olav Hestenes announced: "For the first time at this desk, I allow myself to say that a travesty of justice has been committed."

The judge, Karl Solberg, reacted furiously and later applauded the court's verdict. Solberg has become notorious in actions of miscarriage of justice, being instrumental in the wrongful incarcerations of Moen and Atle Hage, a father who was convicted of incest, took his own life after release, and was cleared ten years later when his children testified on his behalf.[1]

Reversal[edit]

Moen's attorney requested a new trial for both cases on January 2, 2000. The court accepted the requests for the Sigrid Heggheim case, and on October 7, 2004 judge Wenche Skjæggestad announced that the court reversed the conviction and acquitted Moen for the attempted rape and murder of Sigrid Heggheim. The court found that the forensic evidence was exonerative of Moen, and that in any case reasonable doubt should have acquitted him in the first place. Among other things, he had an alibi for the most likely time of the crime. Also, the forensic evidence indicated that the perpetrator had pursued the victim across a field, knocked her down, and then tied her with her own clothes - Moen was partly paralyzed and physically incapable of these actions.

The court rejected the appeal for a resumption of the Torunn Finstad case, and on October 13, 2005, the Norwegian Criminal Cases Review Commission received a preliminary application for review of the case. When Moen died on March 28, 2005 of natural causes, it became known that he wanted the case on his behalf to continue.

In December 2005, it became known that Tor Hepsø, a convicted felon with a long history of violence, had made a deathbed confession that he had killed both Sigrid Heggheim and Torunn Finstad. On June 15, 2006, the Criminal Cases Review Board formally accepted the application, and on August 24, 2006, the Frostating court posthumously acquitted Fritz Moen for the rape and murder of Sigrid Heggheim as well. It was found that the preponderance of the evidence made the man with the deathbed confession a more likely suspect, and that Moen's confession was likely coerced and only included information that had been made public.

These two acquittals are widely attributed to the tireless work of his defense attorney John Christian Elden, and private investigator Tore Sandberg.

There is now[dated info] an expectation that Fritz Moen's estate will file a civil suit against the Norwegian government for several tens of millions of Norwegian kroner.

The case has attracted widespread public opinion in Norway. There are calls for a formal inquiry into the conduct of the prosecutors and police, and there is even talk of erecting a bust or statue of Moen in front of the Norwegian Ministry of Justice as a symbol of the responsibilities of the criminal justice system.

Inquiry[edit]

On June 25, 2007 a commission headed by Henry John Mæland, professor of law at the University of Bergen delivered its findings to the Norwegian Minister of Justice Knut Storberget. The commission stated that the principle of objectivity was violated repeatedly by both the police and the courts. The commission found that the most important lesson that can be learned from this case is that the presumption of innocence must be attended by both the public prosecutors and the courts.[2] Chair of the commission Mæland stated that witnesses had been coaxed by the Trondheim police force while at the same time significant evidence proving the innocence of Moen had been withheld from the defence and the courts. "Some of the evidence has basically been hidden within the police reports," Mæland concluded. The justice minister commented during the press conference that "the commission's report shows that grave errors have been committed leading to grave results."[3]

The commissioned was appointed on September 8, 2006 by the Norwegian cabinet. It consisted apart from professor Mæland of judge Inger Marie Dons Jensen and psychiatrist Ingrid Lycke Ellingsen. Its mandate was to "find out why Moen was wrongfully convicted and evaluate whether changes are needed in the criminal justice system to avoid wrongful convictions in the future".

Infringement (Overgrepet) by Tore Sandberg, the private investigator involved in Moen's case, was published in October 2007. The book names police officers and other public servants instrumental in Moen's criminal prosecution.

On 5 February 2008, the Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs of the Norwegian Parliament recommended that a commission be named to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute for impeachment three of the Norwegian Supreme Court Justices who presided over the Moen cases. The three were Magnus Matningsdal, Karin Maria Bruzelius and Eilert Stang Lund.[4] However, when the case went to the Standing Committee on Justice, it was closed.[5]

Justice:Denied, the only wrongful conviction magazine in the United States, published an article about Fritz Moen's case in its Spring 2008 issue: "Exonerated Of Two Murders, Fritz Moen Posthumously Awarded $4 Million".

The conclusion of the inquiry recommended there be no investigation in order to label responsibility to individual police or judicial officers since "such action would probably lead to the pulverization of responsibility".

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.forejustice.org/db/Hage--Atle.html
  2. ^ Norwegian News Agency (25 June 2007). "Krass kritikk i Fritz Moen-saken" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  3. ^ Haugli, Børre O.; Ida Johansson (25 June 2007). "Politiet slaktes". Nettavisen (in Norwegian) (TV 2). Retrieved 25 June 2007. 
  4. ^ Gjerde, Robert (5 February 2008). "Stortinget må vurdere riksrett". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 5 February 2008. 
  5. ^ Ommundsen, Else Gro (8 May 2008). "Høyesterettsdommere stilles ikke for riksrett". Dagsavisen (in Norwegian). Retrieved 12 October 2008. 

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