A man falsely imprisoned for 18 years over the rape and murder of a teenager has been acquitted by Poland‘s supreme court.
Judges ruled Tomasz Komenda could not have committed the crime after advanced forensic techniques shed new light on the evidence.
The 42-year-old, who gave a cry of relief after the verdict was announced, said life in prison was “hell” and that he had been “treated like filth” behind bars.
Mr Komenda’s case has shocked the nation, with Poland’s right-wing government highlighting it as an example of what it says is a malfunctioning justice system requiring deep reform.
Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, however, said the acquittal showed the mistakes of the system can be corrected.
He said: “No-one can give back the years that Tomasz Komenda has lost. Still, the acquittal restores the sense of dignity of an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted.”
Mr Komenda left prison in March after prosecutors revisited his case and came to the conclusion he was innocent.
The review was ordered by Mr Ziobro at the request of the parents of the 15-year-old victim, who was killed during a 1997 New Year party in southwestern Poland. They had developed doubts as to Mr Komenda’s guilt.
The prosecutors appealed to the supreme court for his acquittal.
Mr Komenda buried his face in his hands when the three-judge panel declared him innocent and said previous evidence and new facts showed he could not have committed the crime.
Mr Komenda later said: “For the last 18 years I have been asking myself: ‘What have I done wrong to have my life turned into hell?’
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“All that time, I was treated like filth.”
He said he is now under psychological care.
The judges’ verdict also pointed to mistakes in the process of gathering evidence and to a negligent approach to testimony from the defence witnesses. Those mistakes are now under investigation.
Mr Komenda’s lawyer, Zbigniew Cwiakalski, said he will seek more than 10 million zlotys (£2m) in damages for Mr Komenda for the wrongful conviction and his years in prison.
Additional reporting by AP