Fredrik Fasting Torgersen, a Norwegian who fought for decades to overturn his conviction for a murder he claimed he didn’t commit, died Thursday at the age of 80. His lawyers claim they’ll continue his battle in a case that many call a travesty of justice.
Torgersen had a police record when he was first charged with the murder of 16-year-old Rigmor Johnsen in December 1957. The teenager was found in the rear courtyard of the building where she lived on Skippergata in downtown Oslo.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) recounted Friday how Torgersen, then 23 years old, had been arrested just 600 meters away a half-hour earlier, suspected of bicycle theft. He also had previous convictions dating back to 1952 for assaulting a police officer, other incidents of violence and theft. In 1955 he had been sentenced to three years in prison and five years on probation for the attempted rape of a woman identified only as “Mrs K” in Oslo.
In the wrong place at the wrong time
He had recently been released from prison when he was arrested close to the murder scene for stealing the bicycle. He was subsequently charged with Johnsen’s murder and later indicted for allegedly having followed her home, trying to rape her and then strangling her. He was convicted to life in prison the next year but was released 16 years later, in 1974.
Torgersen claimed innocence in Johnsen’s death all along and never gave up the battle to clear his name. His battle became known as Torgersen-saken (The Torgersen case) as he sought reevaluation in court five times between 1958 and 2007, supported by a long list of prominent attorneys and, not least, author Jens Bjørneboe. They pointed out flaws in the police investigation, in evidence presented and to a controversial written declaration delivered to prosecutors that was said to be written by the late husband of “Mrs K” before he died in 1991. He wrote that she had admitted to him that she had not been assaulted by Torgersen and that the charges in that case were based on a “misunderstanding.” Police claimed the declaration was fabricated by Torgersen himself.
Appeals rejected every time
The courts, all the way up to the Norway’s Supreme Court, rejected Torgersen’s attempts to get his case reevaluated, with the commission set up to review such cases also declining his appeals as late as 2010. “The Torgersen Case” remained a subject of considerable interest and controversy in Norway for more than five decades, though, and his supporters still claim Torgersen was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
High-profile Oslo attorneys Cato Schiøtz and Pål W Lorentzen have continued to work on the case on behalf of Torgersen. Lorentzen told NRK Friday morning that the case will proceed despite Torgersen’s death.
“It’s especially the technical evidence that new analyses show did not have the critical strength needed, and the tactical evidence doesn’t hold either,” Lorentzen told NRK. “Luckily, Torgersen knew that another attempt would be made to reopen the case and that it will proceed. That was a small glimmer of hope for him, but it’s very sad that he won’t experience himself what we hope will be the reopening of this case.”