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Career Criminal Convicted of Murdering Palme

July 27, 1989

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ A career criminal who haunted the streets of Stockholm in search of drugs and drink was convicted Thursday of murdering Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 and was sentenced to life in prison.

Carl Gustav Christer Pettersson was found guilty by a Stockholm District Court panel of two professional judges and six lay jurors.

The two judges said there was not enough evidence to convict Pettersson, but they were outvoted by the lay jurors. A simple majority was needed for conviction.

Pettersson’s attorney said he would appeal.

The laymen accepted the testimony of Lisbeth Palme, who testified that she saw Pettersson, 42, standing near her husband moments after he was shot in the back at close range while walking home from a late movie on Feb. 28, 1986.

An architect of Sweden’s modern welfare state, Palme had been in his fourth term as prime minister. He cultivated a reputation as an international peacemaker.

His death shocked many Swedes into the realization their peaceful country was not immune to violence.

In the years after the shooting, police looked for an international conspiracy in an investigation marred by public squabbles and frustrations.

Three police chiefs and one justice minister resigned under pressure. No one claimed the $8 million reward that was offered for information leading to a conviction.

Instead, routine police work led to the verdict. Pettersson, an admitted abuser of amphetamines and alcohol, was questioned immediately after the slaying but released because he had an alibi.

A new team of investigators, sifting through previous statements, found holes in his story, and he was arrested Dec. 14. The trial began June 5.

Pettersson was also convicted of endangering the life of Mrs. Palme, who was grazed by a bullet.

However, the reservations of judges Carl-Anton Spak and Mikael af Geijerstam laid grounds for an appeal that could work in favor of Pettersson, who has maintained his innocence.

The murder weapon was never found. Neither Mrs. Palme nor any other witness testified to seeing Pettersson with a gun in his hand. No motive was established.

″There might be grounds, maybe good grounds″ for a reversal in appellate court, defense attorney Arne Liljeros told Swedish radio. He called the decision ″a halfway victory.″ The appellate court is made up solely of judges.

In the 46-page decision, the district court said Mrs. Palme ″with great certainty″ identified Pettersson as the man she saw directly after her husband fell to the ground.

″The way she identified him at the trial is, according to the court, very convincing,″ it said.

Pettersson testified that he was 18 miles away at a suburban train station when Palme was shot on a downtown street corner. One witness supported his testimony. Others disputed it.

Pettersson said he had left his suburban home to buy amphetamines but was on the way home when Palme was killed.

″I was a bum,″ he told the court. ″I belonged to the A-Team″ - a derisive label for drunks who sleep in parks and churchyards.

″I am a killer but not a murderer,″ he said. ″I did not kill Prime Minister Olof Palme.″

Pettersson was convicted of manslaughter in a fatal stabbing in 1970 near the spot where Palme was killed.

Since the age of 19, Pettersson has been convicted of more than 60 crimes, mostly assault and theft.

Professional jurists Spak and Geijerstam cast doubt on the testimony of Mrs. Palme and others at the scene. They also pointed to the lack of a motive.

″The possibility of a mistake must be considerable,″ the judges said in their dissenting opinion.

″We think that the factor of uncertainty is so prominent that we can’t vote to convict,″ Geijerstam told reporters after the verdict was announced.

Under Swedish practice, lay jurors are selected from a pool of citizens put forward by the country’s political parties. In this case, there were two Social Democrats, one member of the Moderate Party, one from the Center Party, one Liberal and one Communist.

They and the judges had equal votes.

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