The special court trying the ‘November 17’ terrorist group case on Wednesday announced the proposed sentences for the 15 defendants convicted in the rulings announced Monday. Four other defendants were acquitted in the verdicts passed down on Monday.
The court will confer on the proposals, and is due to pass down the sentences this coming week.
The convictions eased security concerns ahead of the Athens Olympics next August, and appeared to close the chapter on the group that staged rocket attacks, bombings, shootings and bank robberies in central Athens and taunted authorities in letters to the media.
Bench prosecutor Christos Lambrou, representing the state, called for multiple life sentences for 17N leader Alexandros Giotopoulos, main hitman Dimitris Koufodinas, Xiros brothers Savvas, and Christodoulos, and Vassilis Tzortzatos, and a life sentence for Iraklis Kostaris.
According to estimates, the remaining years of imprisonment (beyond the life sentences) proposed for Giotopoulos and Koufodinas exceed 2,000 years each, which translates into 25 years imprisonment.
Giotopoulos was a student in Paris in the 1960’s and the son of Greece’s most prominent Trotskyite.
As he was led from court, he smiled, waved to spectators and shouted: “Today’s Greece is a modern colony of the United States.”
Beekeeper Dimitris Koufodinas, was the main hitman, who was dubbed “Poison Hand” for his point-blank, cold-blooded murders with a pistol.
“This verdict does not concern us, we are only interested in the judgment of history and of the Greek people,” he shouted.
A little later his wife, Angeliki Sotirpoulou, walked free after 16 months in custody. “I can now stare at the sky without any barbed wire,” she said with a faint smile.
The long-awaited trial opened Monday, March 3, at the women’s section of the Korydallos prison, near Piraeus, under stringent security measures, and adjourned on November 24, after 162 sessions.
The court proceedings were presided over by Appeals judge’s president Michalis Margaritis, 64, who joined the judicial corps in 1972 after receiving a degree from the Athens Law School and post-graduate studies specializing in European Law in London.
The other justices sitting on the bench were appeals judges Nikolaos Zairis, 57, and Vassilis Kourkakis, 63. The prosecutor representing the State was 64-year-old appeals judge Christos Lambrou, a veteran to the judicial corps which he joined in 1969.
Prosecution witnesses numbered more than 350, among them 40 foreign nationals.
Defense lawyers numbered 150, while the accused faced charges for an overall total of some 2,000 crimes.
Below is an overall tally of the bench prosecutor’s proposed prison sentences for the 15 convicted ‘November 17’ terrorist group members:
Alexandros Giotopoulos: 21 life terms + 2,440 years.
Dimitris Koufodinas: 13 life terms + 2,446 years.
Christodoulos Xiros: 10 life terms + 1,640 years.
Savvas Xiros: 6 life terms + 2,076 years.
Vassilis Tzortzatos: 4 life terms + 1,537 years.
Iraklis Kostaris: 1 life term + 67 years.
Patroklos Tselentis: 371 years.
Vassilis Xiros: 176 years.
Costas Telios: 112 years.
Sotiris Kondylis: 49 years.
Kostas Karatsolis: 48 years.
Thomas Serifis: 37 years.
Vassilis Georgiadis: 17 years.
Pavlos Serifis: 10 years.
Nikos Papanastasiou: 10 years.
The long-term imprisonment sentences (apart from the life terms), cumulatively add up to 25-year imprisonment.
The bench prosecutor has called for a total of 11,036 years incarceration (apart from life terms) for the convicted defendants, while the total fines proposed for the instances of bomb explosions add up to 244,500 euro.
Government spokesman Christos Protopapas on Monday hailed the end of the ”November 17” trial as a victory of democracy over terrorism, saying the trial had been carried out flawlessly and with respect for the individual rights of the accused.
According to the spokesman, Greece society had finally been freed from the scourge of terrorism after decades and the country was now considered one of the safest on the planet.
Protopapas said the court’s decision also confirmed the thorough job done by the government and Greek law enforcement authorities.
Asked to comment on statements by Public Order Minister George Floridis regarding the possibility of further terrorism-related arrests, Protopapas stressed that N17 had been
Justice Minister Philippos Petsalnikos on Monday said the court’s decision was a ”triumph of our legal culture” and ruled out any possibility of extraditing those acquitted to the United States or any other country.
He said the entire procedure leading up to the verdict had ensured protection of the defendants’ rights, that lawyers and other participants in the trial were able to exercise their functions unobstructed and that there was the maximum possible news coverage of the proceedings.
Philippos Petsalnikos ruled out the extradition of any of the convicted guerrillas to the United States.
“According to the existing law there is no way they will be extradited to the United States, categorically no way,” he said. The group killed five U.S. servicemen and diplomats in separate attacks from 1975 to 1991.
New Democracy spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that justice had done its duty and that the decision was an important landmark in the fight against terrorism.
”Terrorism is the enemy of democracy, therefore the fight against it is incessant,” he added.
Synaspismos leader Nikos Constantopoulos responded to questions of journalists saying ”the decision of the court must be respected. Until the judicial process concludes its second (appeal) phase, everyone should let justice do its job, following the principles of a just trial and democratic guarantees, which is the content of our civilization.
“I want to see what the final sentences are before I comment,” said Thomas J. Miller, the American ambassador, whose friend Capt. William Nordeen of the United States Navy was killed by the group in 1988.
U.S. Department of State Spokesman, Richard Boucher welcomed the guilty verdicts.
“We hope that this helps bring closure to the families of the victims of November 17 terrorist acts. We’ll reserve further comment until after the sentencing. We understand the sentencing phase of the trial would occur within the next week”, he said.
Asked whether he believes all members of November 17 were arrested, Boucher said:
“That’s really a question for GREEK law enforcement.I really think first and foremost that the GREEK judicial and law enforcement authorities, who are determined and who have shown their determination to pursue November 17, they have to answer whether they still have a case open or not”.
A United States Justice Department spokesman on Wednesday said that as a matter of principle the U.S. does not comment news reports concerning the extradition or not of ”November 17” terrorist organization members from Greece to the United States.
“I think the chapter of terrorism in Greece is finally over,” said Michalis Tsinisizelidis, political science professor at Athens University.
Saunders’ widow, Heather, said: “At the end of the day nobody really wins in this situation, but if they are taken off the streets for a while and given a dose of their own medicine — albeit no comparison to what we suffered — then that, perhaps, is justice.”
In court to hear the verdicts was Athens Mayor and Olympic Games host Dora Bakoyiannis. Her husband Pavlos, a conservative parliamentarian, was shot dead by the gang in 1989.
“Greek justice spoke today. Its decisions are respected by all,” she said. “But our people will not be coming back.”
The children of two of “November 17’s” most recognizable victims, Richard Welch and USN Capt. George Tsantes, spoke out on Wednesday against the once-elusive far-left terrorist group responsible for their fathers’ murder, hours after 15 convicted terrorists were handed down multiple life sentences, the harshest punishment allowed by Greek law.
One of Welch’s two sons told reporters that he arrived in Greece with his sister to honor their father as well as the other victims, both Americans and Greeks. The son and daughter of George Tsantes said they arrived for the same reason, saying they were pleased that the trial, which included charges related to the US Navy captain’s 1983 assassination, was finally concluded.
Nevertheless, Tsantes’ two children lamented the fact that the actual killer of their father, a distinguished Greek-American graduate of Annapolis and a nuclear physicist, was not specifically identified. Only the convicted mastermind of the notorious terror gang was convicted in the Tsantes murder.
Chip Tsantes was quoted in the Ney York Times saying that he believed that other people involved in the killing of his father were still at large. “People who come here for the Olympics should know this is a country where known terrorists walk the streets,” he said.
The children of Richard Welch, a Harvard-educated classicist that served as the CIA’s station chief in Athens when assassinated by N17 in December 1975, stressed that they will do whatever is in their power to bring to justice two people they said were involved in their father’s murder, a reference to two out of the four suspects acquitted on Monday.
The two were sitting amongst the public in the court during Wednesday sentencing phase.
Welch’s son added, however, that the trial should have taken place 28 years ago.
Finally, they said they were impressed by Greek authorities’ actions related to the trial and prosecution of the N17 defendants.
Athens is spending more than $750 million on security, the most ever spent on an Olympic Games, and three and a half times the budget of the 2000 Games in Sydney. It plans to hire 50,000 security personnel, four times more than were used in any previous Games. Greece is also working closely with other countries, to compensate for its own limited security apparatus and to spread the burden of securing the Games. A seven-member advisory group, comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Spain and Australia, met in Athens last Monday. The command and control center for the Games is being designed by a San Diego-based company, Science Applications International Corporation, that did the same job for the Salt Lake City Winter Games.