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Knutby: they’re back

No sooner had the verdicts been handed down at the end of Sweden's sensational Knutby trial in early August than the talk of appeals began.

Now, the whole case is back in the legal and media spotlight as the prosecution and both defence teams seek to have the sentences reconsidered.

But first, a recap. On a cold night in January 2004 a woman was shot dead in the village of Knutby, not far from Uppsala. A short while later, the killer knocked on the door of a neighbour and shot him as he opened the door. He survived.

The dead woman was Alexandra Fossmo, wife of Pastor Helge Fossmo, one of the leaders of the extreme pentecostal sect that dominates village life, and sister of the woman many claimed was the cult’s real leader, Åsa Waldau – otherwise known as the Bride of Christ.

The man who was shot was Daniel Linde, whose wife was having an affair with the pastor.

And the killer was the Fossmo’s children’s nanny, Sara Svensson. She admitted to the shootings from the start, but claimed that she was being controlled by the manipulative pastor.

But there was another angle to the story. In December 1999 Fossmo’s first wife, Hélène Fossmo, died after an apparent fall in the bath. At the time the death was recorded as an accident but the pastor was then accused of her murder since, according to the prosecutors, further analysis had shown that she could not have been killed by a fall.

At the beginning of August Fossmo was sentenced to life in prison for instigating the attempted murder and murder of his second wife Alexandra and the attempted murder of his lover’s husband, neighbour Daniel Linde. He was cleared of killing his first wife. Svensson was found guilty of committing the murder and attempted murder under the influence of Fossmo and sentenced to psychiatric care.

Now, the appeals. Fossmo is appealing against his life sentence, while the prosecutor is appealing against the not guilty verdict for the murder of his first wife and wants Svensson sentenced to life imprisonment rather than psychiatric care.

The range of appeals means that more or less the whole trial needs to be re-run and it kicked off last Friday with opening statements from the prosecution and both of the defence teams.

Dagens Nyheter reported that prosecutor Elin Blank “tried to show that Helge Fossmo must have beaten his first wife to death in 1999 by hitting her head against the bath tap” and that “Fossmo had manipulated nanny Sara Svensson to murder his second wife”. Blank said that Fossmo had planned the murder as early as 2001.

Sara Svensson’s lawyer, Christer Söderberg, focused on an earlier assault by his client on Fossmo’s second wife. In November 2003 Svensson attacked Alexandra Fossmo with a hammer, but Söderberg said that this shouldn’t be seen as a murder attempt since she didn’t hit her victim very hard.

“She thought that it would be enough with a light hit and that God would do the rest,” he said.

But Helge Fossmo’s lawyer tried to portray Svensson as unreliable, saying that she “is fully capable of shooting two people”. He complained that the two defendants had not been treated equally through the first trial. While Svensson had been allowed to speak freely, he said, Fossmo was constantly interrupted by the prosecutor.

On Tuesday Svensson herself was in the dock, but this time round Fossmo was allowed in the room to hear her give evidence. Her testimony had a familiar ring to it as she once again told the court heard how he controlled her life.

“Helge’s word was my law. Today I see more and more how sick that was.”

She described their relationship, saying that she loved and trusted Fossmo but that he suddenly lost interest in her, knocking down her self-esteem.

“I became the temptress. I was his slave day and night.”

Svensson described the anonymous text messages Fossmo sent her – which, at the time, she believed were coming from God – and said that as far back as 2001 the pastor asked her if she thought she could kill someone. She then described how he “instructed her and pressed her” to kill his wife and neighbour.

“I was trapped in a corner,” she said. “I am not a murderer but I realised that it was my only way back to God.”

On Thursday morning the court heard more inconclusive evidence from experts about the death of Fossmo’s first wife and after lunch, Svensson took the stand again to describe in detail the sequence of events on the night of the murder.

“I loaded the revolver in Almunge,” she began. “I drove, I swung in onto a gravel road… I put on my mask on a gravel road. I went up the hill towards Helge’s house…”

But at this point, reported Aftonbladet, she stopped, telling the court that she was finding it hard to speak about what happened.

Between sobs she continued to relate how she had crept into the pastor’s house and turned on her mobile phone, “hoping to find a text message saying that the test was over”.

“I went into Alexandra and fired a shot at the body. Then I fired a shot at the head. That was the worst thing I did. Then I felt that she was dead. Helge said I had to make sure.”

Then she spoke about how she went next door to Daniel Linde’s house but felt she couldn’t manage to kill him. She “had SMS and telephone contact” with Fossmo and decided to continue. She knocked on Linde’s door and as he opened it she shot him twice. She said she thought he was dead.

“Today I’m so glad he’s alive,” she added.

The prosecutor handed over to Svensson’s own lawyer, Christer Söderberg, but at this point she broke down again, saying that she couldn’t think and asking for a break. The court agreed and adjourned for the day.

There will be eight more ‘trial days’ spread over the next four weeks. Svensson’s cross-examination will continue on the morning of Wednesday 6th October. In the afternoon the court will hear from Helge Fossmo.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, Metro, Stockholm City