‘Monika’ murder trial starts in Bergen

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The mysterious death of an eight-year-old girl in Western Norway more than four years ago is the subject of a major murder trial that got underway in Bergen on Monday. The so-called “Monika case” has attracted massive media attention in Norway, not least because of how the police initially ruled the death a suicide and then allegedly failed to take it seriously.

“We have a lot to learn from this case,” the director of Norway’s national police, Odd Reidar Humlegård, told newspaper Aftenposten on Monday. He noted that it “first and foremost” was about a little girl named Monika Sviglinskaja and a 34-year-old man from Lithuania who’s now charged with Monika’s murder. He’s the former live-in-partner of the girl’s mother, also from Lithuania.

“But this is also about an investigation that wasn’t good enough, and then how police handled the criticism about it,” Humlegård said. “This case has been a wake-up call for many.”

Humlegård is among those relieved, not least including Monika’s mother, Kristina Sviglinskaja, that the case has finally come up for trial. An attorney for Monika’s family has himself said he’s now satisfied with the investigation conducted after a whistle-blower within the Hordaland Police District was finally heard. “Both the two police chiefs who were responsible have spoken with Monika’s mother and apologized to her (for the initially bungled investigation and their failure to address her concerns),” Humlegård said. “When the police don’t do what’s expected of them, it’s a problem for many. I now see a high degree of humility within the police after what’s come forward.”

Child’s body found strangled
Kristina Sviglinskaja found her daughter dead at their home in Sund at Sotra, Hordaland County, on November 14, 2011, with a belt wrapped around her neck. Police were called but they dropped the case less than a year later, claiming the child had strangled herself.

Her mother refused to believe that and kept pressing for a murder investigation, immediately suspecting that her former partner was involved. In January 2014, police investigator Robin Schaefer blew the proverbial whistle and claimed the case had been dropped for the wrong reasons. He was initially ignored as well, but the Hordaland police district finally reopened the investigation under strong pressure, also from the media at that point. Last year the Hordaland Police District was fined NOK 100,000 for dereliction of duty in the Monika case, and police in Bergen received a sharp rebuke from a state commission.

On October 21, 2014, the former partner of Monika’s mother, Donatas Lukosevicius, was arrested, charged and later indicted for murdering Monika. Police contend new DNA evidence ties him to the case, while Lukosevicius, who had a prior criminal record in Lithuania but was working in Bergen, denies having anything to do with the girl’s death. He was claiming in Norwegian media over the weekend that he thinks he’s been all but been convicted in advance.

The trial is scheduled to run over the next four weeks in the Nordhordland local court.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund