Norway has dropped charges against a man who had served nearly 21 years for the rape and murder of two girls, following a re-examination of the evidence.
The high-profile conviction for the murder and rape of two young girls, 8-year-old Stine Sofie Sorstronen and 10-year-old Lena Slogedal Paulsen, has been called one of the worst miscarriages of justice in the country’s history.
Viggo Kristiansen, who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced by two courts in 2001 and 2002 to the longest sentence possible at the time — 21 years in prison with the possibility of an extension.
The two girls were found dead in May of 2000 after they had gone swimming in a lake in a wooded area in the south of the country. The gruesome circumstances of their deaths sent shock waves throughout Norway.
A reopening of the case last year discredited the evidence of co-defendant Jan Helge Andersen, who had implicated his friend Mr Kristiansen as being the main perpetrator.
It also showed that DNA evidence did not support the theory that several perpetrators had been involved, and noted that Mr Kristiansen’s phone was well away from the scene of the crime at the time it was alleged to have happened.
“The case has had profoundly tragic consequences, especially for Kristiansen — who has served more than 20 years in prison and has thus been deprived of large parts of his life — and for his relatives,” Attorney General Jorn Sigurd Maurud told reporters.
“I therefore want, on behalf of the prosecution, to offer my sincerest apologies for the injustice that has been inflicted.”
The national police and the police district that conducted the investigation have also apologised.
Norwegian media have described the case as “one of the most serious miscarriages of justice” in modern Norwegian history.
Mr Kristiansen, now 43, was released from prison last year. He may be eligible to request compensation of more than 30 million Norwegian kroner ($2.8 million) from the state, his lawyer said.
His acquittal will still need to be processed by a court but with the prosecution dropping the charge, this is largely a formality.
“If the court of appeal announces an acquittal, this will be one of the biggest legal scandals in Norwegian history,” Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl told reporters at press conference.
Stressing a final decision by the court was still due, she issued a conditional apology and announced the establishment of an independent inquiry to shed light on what led to the conviction.
Mr Kristiansen’s co-defendant, Andersen, who received a lighter jail sentence of 19 years for co-operating with investigators, will now be further investigated, prosecutors added.