WARSAW, Poland — Poland's Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted a man who had served 18 years in prison for the rape and murder of a teenager that the judges now say he couldn't have committed.
The case of Tomasz Komenda has shocked the nation. Poland's right-wing government has highlighted the case as an example of what it says is a malfunctioning justice system that needs deep reform.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, however, said the acquittal shows that the mistakes of the justice system can be corrected.
"No one can give back the years that Tomasz Komenda has lost, still the acquittal restores the sense of dignity of an innocent man who had been wrongly convicted," Ziobro said.
Komenda, 42, left prison in March after prosecutors revisited his case and came to the conclusion that he couldn't have committed the crime. The review had been ordered by Ziobro at the request of the parents of the 15-year-old victim, who was killed during a 1997 New Year's disco party in southwestern Poland. They had developed doubts as to Komenda's guilt.
The prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court for his acquittal.
Komenda gave a cry of relief and buried his face in his hands Wednesday when the three-judge panel declared him innocent and said that previous evidence and new facts showed he could not have committed the crime.
"For the last 18 years I have been asking myself: what have I done wrong to have my life turned into hell?" Komenda later told reporters. "All that time, I was treated like filth."
He said he is now under psychological care.
In explaining the verdict, the court said advanced forensic techniques had shed new light on the evidence and excluded Komenda as the perpetrator. It also pointed to mistakes in the process of gathering evidence and to a negligent approach to testimony from the defense witnesses. Those mistakes are under investigation now.
His attorney, Zbigniew Cwiakalski, said he will seek more than 10 million zlotys ($2.7 million) in damages for Komenda for the wrongful conviction and his years in prison.