Vinko Martinovic also known as Stela, who holds both Croatian and Bosnian citizenship, on Friday was cleared of charges of murdering Jasmina Djukic in 1996 in Mostar, at a retrial before the Zagreb County Court.
Martinovic, convicted of war crimes against Bosniaks, was released from an Italian prison in January 2012 after serving two-thirds of an 18-year prison sentence handed down by the Hague war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Two months after his release, he was arrested at a Croatian-Bosnian border crossing on a warrant issued by the Zagreb County Court in 2008. In 1998, the Zagreb County Court accused Martinovic of the Djukic murder and that same year sentenced him to eight years' imprisonment pending appeal, but five days before his transfer to the Hague tribunal in August 1999, the Supreme Court quashed the ruling and ordered a retrial. The Croatian Supreme Court ordered the retrial after it upheld an appeal by the prosecution against the acquittal rendered by the Zagreb County Court in 2013.
At both retrials, the Zagreb County Court cleared Martinovic of murder charges with the explanation that there was no material evidence corroborating the accusations against the defendant. As for witness testimonies, only one witness, Djino Zekan, testified against the accused, but this witness was found to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychotic depression, which was why his statement could not serve as a basis to find Martinovic guilty, according to the court.
Since the very start of the proceedings, Martinovic insisted on his innocence.
In the first retrial, the defence for Martinovic presented transcripts of talks held between former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and his aides, which the defence team used to corroborate their claims that Martionovic had to be arrested for any reason so that he could be handed over to the Hague-based ICTY.
The defence lawyers obtained those transcripts only in 2011 when the government led by then prime minister Jadranka Kosor declassified them.
During the last retrial, the witnesses were a former chief of intelligence, Miroslav Tudjman, and a former interior minister, Ivan Penic who, according to the presiding judge Ivana Calic, confirmed that the case of Martinovic Stela had been commented in the Office of the President.
"This is, at least, unusual," the judge Calic said with an explanation that the indictment against Martinovic had not been sustained by evidence.