Officer given life for boy's murder in Greek riot case

Undated photo of Alexandros Grigoropoulos Witnesses said Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot deliberately

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A Greek policeman has been sentenced to life in prison for murdering a schoolboy in 2008, an incident that sparked mass unrest.

A court in the town of Amfissa convicted Epaminondas Korkoneas, 38, of intentionally killing 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

He was shot dead on 6 December 2008 in the Athens neighbourhood of Exarchia.

Korkoneas's patrol partner, Vassilios Saraliotis, 32, was given a 10-year jail sentence for complicity.

The riots that followed the killing saw cars being set alight and shops looted in a number of cities. Hundreds of businesses in Athens were targeted and the second city of Thessaloniki also saw serious unrest.

Further rioting took place on the first anniversary.

'We will not forget'

The verdict from a panel of judges and jurors was 4-3 in favour of convicting Korkoneas of intentionally shooting Alexandros.

Analysis

The decision, by the smallest possible margin, to convict Epaminondas Korkoneas of murder closes one of the darkest chapters of recent Greek history and is a source of considerable relief for the country's socialist government.

Anything other than a guilty verdict could have triggered a violent response from the country's youth, many of whom regard the police with suspicion, mistrust and outright hatred.

The outcome is a source of grim satisfaction for the family of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who had fully expected "The Rambo of Exarchia" to be convicted of murder.

Alexandros's mother Gina Tsalikian, who runs a jewellery store in Athens, was highly distressed by attempts by Korkoneas's defence team to paint her son as a troublemaker and the verdict helps to restore his memory.

Two judges and one juror had backed a lesser verdict of manslaughter with possible intent.

The nine-month trial heard that Korkoneas had fired three shots, during an altercation with youths on the streets of Athens.

His lawyer said these had been warning shots - responding to a hail of missiles - and cited an autopsy report indicating the boy had been hit by a ricocheting bullet.

However, witnesses and relatives testified that Korkoneas had deliberately taken aim and fired.

At the trial in January, Alexandros's mother, Gina Tsalikian, said the two defendants were "monsters in the guise of men".

Responding to the verdict, her spokesman, Capt Andreas Constantinou, said: "The family is happy with the outcome of the court proceedings. Justice has been done.

"Of course, Alexandros is not coming back, but at least what is important for the family is that his good name has been restored."

The trial was moved from Athens to Amfissa - a small town 200km (120 miles) west of the capital - to deter attacks by anarchist groups that had vowed to kill the two defendants.

Exarchia is a rebellious district, popular with self-styled anarchists, and there are frequent clashes with police.

Vassilios Saraliotis and Epaminondas Korkoneas on trial in Amfissa, Greece Saraliotis (left) and Korkoneas denied the charges

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says the chairman of the residents' association there, Manos Koufouglou, had told him he welcomed the verdict.

But Mr Koufouglou said that while tensions had eased, the people of Exarchia remained unhappy that the armed Special Guard unit to which Korkoneas belonged had not been disbanded.

"Police violence goes on," he told our correspondent. "The government has not done enough to reform the police.

"There will be a demonstration to mark the anniversary of the murder. We will not forget."

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