Knutby trial opens

"I was born in 1977 in Vaggeryd. I had a good and loving upbringing. My parents were Christian so I was brought up with Christian beliefs."

Never before in Sweden can such ordinary words have been so eagerly anticipated or so widely reported. But these were the opening words from the first defendant, the nanny Sara Svensson, in the Knutby trial which began on Tuesday – and what followed was anything but ordinary.

With a clear voice and frequent tearful interludes, Svensson explained to the court – and the media scrum – how a stint at a bible school in 1997-98 brought her into contact with Åsa Waldau, the leader of an extreme wing of the Swedish Pentecostal Church in the village of Knutby. The nanny decided to join the congregation, impressed by the way “they lived for God not only on Sundays but every day”.

But under cross-examination, the 27-year old Svensson painted a picture of what Svenska Dagbladet described as a ‘regime of terror’ as she became more closely acquainted with her co-accused, Helge Fossmo, the pastor of Knutby.

In her “search for God” she moved into his house in Knutby with his second wife and three children.

He bound her increasingly tightly to him and demanded round-the-clock attention when he was sick. Indeed, she claimed that “she didn’t leave his room for six months”. The pastor told her that through sex they would “celebrate God’s victory”. But he also repeatedly said that she was an “instrument of the devil” and “beyond redemption”.

With this pressure, combined with anonymous text messages which she believed were interpretations of God’s will, Svensson apparently became convinced that she had to kill Alexandra Fossmo, the pastor’s second wife, and Daniel Linde, with whose wife the pastor was having an affair.

“I didn’t want to kill them,” Svensson told the court. “I just wanted to do the right thing.”

The prosecutor, Elin Blank, told the court that the murder (and attempted murder of Linde) “was an extreme demonstration of obedience. The pastor had said that his second wife’s time on Earth was at an end and that it would be a mercy for her to meet God.”

Svensson’s first attempt to kill the pastor’s wife by attacking her with a hammer in November 2003 failed. The affair was dealt with by the Knutby leaders who expelled her from the congregation.

But she continued to receive the anonymous text messages and said that she felt guilty that her failure to kill Alexandra Fossmo had made the pastor unhappy. She suggested to the pastor that she could pour petrol in his wife’s room while she slept, but he dismissed this, since “the smoke might damage the house.”

“I said that I wanted to fulfill God’s will but the pastor said that words meant nothing. But I couldn’t find a way to do it. Then the pastor said I could sell my funds and buy a weapon.”

On December 18th 2003 Svensson sold the shares she inherited when her mother died, and by now the pastor was turning up the pressure on her.

“He said he had dreamed of two gravestones. On one was Alexandra’s name. I was terrified he was going to say that my name was on the other. But he said that Daniel’s name was on the second.”

That evening she received another anonymous text message which read: “The first is a must. The second you can do for love.”

She described her unhappy dealings with Stockholm’s underworld – including having 15,000 crowns stolen from her – before she finally met a man who sold her a Smith & Wesson revolver.

The night before the murder, Svensson spoke to the pastor on the phone.

“He was so desperate,” she explained. “He said, ‘I can’t take this, I can’t take another day of this.’ He said that if I didn’t do it, then he must do it. And I thought, ‘No, don’t do it, you have nothing to do with this. I’ll do my best. If I still have time I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Straight after that call, she received a text message: “It’s not too late yet, but soon. Don’t trust the other one. Only you can do it. Don’t risk that he will do it in his desperation. You will do it. You can!”

On Monday Svensson will be cross-examined by the pastor’s defence, Ola Nordström. The pastor denies any involvement in the murder and says he didn’t send the anonymous text messages.

“He has had a hard day,” said Nordström of his client after the second day of the trial. “He’s hurt by what he’s heard and has another version which he’s eager to tell.”