Court stages hearings on scandalous murder

  • 2000-07-06
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Since April 25, hearings in the most scandalous murder case
of recent years have been held in a Vilnius court.

Prosecutor Rolandas Tilindis accused Vladas Beleckas, 46, Ivan
Kvaskov, 26, Artur Daskovski, 26, and Valdas Puodziunas, 22 of the
murder and robbery of Ricardas Mikutavicius, a popular Kaunas Roman
Catholic priest, poet and art collector. Rolandas Beleckas, 27, a
nephew of Vladas Beleckas, is accused of knowing about the crime but
not informing authorities.

The crime was committed on June 30, 1998. Mikutavicius was murdered
and thrown into Nemunas river. His collection of art of 17th-19th
centuries (paintings, sculptures, and vases) was stolen. Criminal
experts valued it at 5 million litas ($1,250,000). At the moment,
only part of this collection, worth of 3.5 million litas, has been
recovered by police and the Security Department.

After several months, when Mikutavicius' corpse was found and
identified, tens of thousands of Kaunas dwellers came to the funeral
of this popular priest.

In the court, Kvaskov said an organizer of the crime was Beleckas,
also a collector of ancient art. Kvaskov said that Beleckas promised
to give him $100,000 for the murder of the priest. However, Beleckas
paid just $5,000 after Kvaskov committed the crime, according to
Kvaskov's witness.

"I was afraid of him. Beleckas was putting psychological pressure on
me," Kvaskov said. The same company of the accused four robbed the
house of another art collector Gediminas Damalakas, a Kaunas lawyer.
Damalakas also took part in the hearings and estimated his stolen
collection at 700,000 litas.

Beleckas did not deny participation in the robberies but denies the
accusations of ordering the murder. Daskovski and Puodziunas
supported the position of Kvaskov.

Beleckas' self-defense was quite theatrical.

"There was no talk about murder. I'm not angry at them [Kvaskov,
Daskovski, Puodziunas]. Mikutavicius taught me not to be angry at
anybody. I knew Mikutavicius for many years. He was a wonderful
person," Beleckas said in the court. Tears were seen in his eyes.

Tilindis stated that Mikutavicius was invited by the four accused to
Kvaskov's flat "to see interesting art objects" and was subsequently
murdered there. Later the gang of four went into Mikutavicius' flat
and stole the ancient art collection. The priest's flat had no alarm
system, Mikutavicius' sister Liucija Kolaitiene, was a court witness.

"My brother was saying, 'I'm a priest. So, who would attack me or do
me some harm?'" Kolaitiene said.

"According to the criminal code, murderers can be punished by life
imprisonment," Tilindis said. He asked court for such a punishment
for Beleckas who is considered to be the crime's organizer by

The final verdict was expected last week. However, the accused people
unexpectedly changed their witnesses and puzzled the court. Kvaskov
and Daskovski suddenly stated that their witnesses against Beleckas
were not correct.

Beleckas said that their group did not intended to kill Mikutavicius
and wanted just to put him to sleep. Kvaskov incidentally used too
big a dose of ether, said Beleckas.

He also said that he was encouraged for this crime by Kaunas Catholic
priest Jonas Bujokas because the Church authorities of Kaunas were
envious of Mikutavicius' popularity. Bujokas denied the accusations
and said that he had never seen Beleckas before the trial. Kaunas
Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius described Beleckas' defense tactics as
nonsensical fantasies.

The trial will be continued in September after a summer recess.