The Norwegian prosecutor’s office on Friday 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, eight-year-old Stine Sofie Sorstronen and 10-year-old Lena Slogedal Paulsen, is 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.
Their deaths sent shockwaves through Norway.
A reopening of the case last year discredited the testimony of co-defendant Jan Helge Andersen, who had implicated his friend Kristiansen.
It also showed that DNA evidence did not support the theory that several perpetrators had been involved, and noted that 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,” he added.
Norwegian media have described the case as “one of the most serious miscarriages of justice” in modern Norwegian history.
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, according to his lawyer.
His co-defendant, Andersen, who received a slightly lighter jail sentence of 19 years for cooperating with investigators, will now be further investigated, the prosecutor added.
Kristiansen acquittal will still need to be processed by a court but with the prosecution dropping the charge, this is largely a formality.