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Jan Kuciak: Murdered journalist's father and press freedom campaigners welcome retrial order

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
(L-R) Jan Kuciak's parents Jana Kuciakova and Jozef Kuciak, Martina Kusnirova's mother Zlatica, and Jan Kuciak's brother Jozef at the Supreme Court, Bratislava, June 15, 2021.
(L-R) Jan Kuciak's parents Jana Kuciakova and Jozef Kuciak, Martina Kusnirova's mother Zlatica, and Jan Kuciak's brother Jozef at the Supreme Court, Bratislava, June 15, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jaroslav Novak/TASR via AP
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The father of an investigative journalist murdered in Slovakia has welcomed a court's decision to order a retrial of two key suspects.

Three judges on the Supreme Court said the lower criminal court did not assess the evidence properly when it cleared Marian Kocner and co-defendant Alena Zsuzsova of murdering Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, both 27, in 2018.

The killings sparked huge protests and brought about the resignation of then-Prime Minister Robert Falco.

"I am happy that finally justice is being done. I think a new verdict will be more just," said Kuciak's father Jozef.

Kusnirova's mother, Zlatica Kusnirova, added: "I have mixed feelings, but I'm glad that justice won."

"The suffering of the parents and dear ones of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova is not over yet but they’re a step closer to justice," Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova said after the panel issued its ruling.

The judges said that in coming to the earlier decision last September, the criminal court in Pezinok had evaluated the evidence without applying "elementary logic" in some instances, and failed to consider it at all in others. The case has been sent back to the lower court but no date for a retrial has been set.

A third defendant was convicted by the same court and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In April 2020 two other suspects pleaded guilty and were convicted, including former soldier and hitman Miroslav Marcek who was given a 23-year jail term.

Despite those three convictions, there has been frustration at what is seen as a lack of full accountability for the murders. Prosecutors allege Kocner paid Marcek to carry out the killings.

Kocner -- who was sentenced to 19 years in jail in January in a separate forgery case -- had allegedly threatened Kuciak after the reporter wrote the latest of several stories about the businessman's dealings.

Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at their home in Velka Maca, east of Bratislava, in February 2018. Their deaths brought the largest street protests since the end of the communist era and a political crisis that brought down Slovakia's government.

Slovakia's prosecutor general Maros Zilinka described Tuesday's ruling as "an important moment for justice and the rule of law".

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it "welcomes this step towards truth and justice in a case that is vital for press freedom in Europe".

The detailed written decision of the three-judge panel ordering a retrial might not be published until the end of July, one of the judges said.