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Man convicted of drowning deaths wants court to dismiss 14-year prison sentence

Courts of Appeal in Eastern Finland have begun weighing the case of a man convicted on two counts of manslaughter and three of attempted manslaughter. The convict wants the court to overturn his 14.5-year prison sentence, but the district prosecutor is calling for a harsher sentence and a public safety assessment.

Epäilty oikeussalissa karvahattu päässä.
Pekka Seppänen wore a fur hat during his trial at the Northern Karelia District Court earlier this year. Image: Marja-Liisa Kämppi / Yle

Courts of Appeal in Joensuu and Kuopio began hearing the case Thursday of Pekka Seppänen, a 51-year-old from Kontiolahti, who was convicted of manslaughter offences in January following a series of drownings and attempted drownings. Seppänen is seeking to have his 14-and-a-half-year sentence overturned. However the prosecution wants a stiffer sentence and a public safety assessment of the felon.

If an assessment finds that Seppänen poses a public danger, he will not be up for parole as readily as other convicted prisoners. Seppänen has already begun serving his sentence at the Pyhäselkä prison in Joensuu.

Court officials have reserved 10 days for appeal hearings of the case in which Seppänen was found guilty and sentenced on two counts of manslaughter and three counts of attempted manslaughter.

Some of the witnesses interviewed by police have indicated that they would prefer not to have visual contact with the felon during the proceedings. They will therefore testify from behind a screen. Others have said that they fear the man and have asked to be placed in a different room entirely, with only an audio link to the courtroom.

The case is an unusual one for the Finnish Appeal Court and many options may come into play, from freeing the felon to increasing the prison sentence. It is also possible that the case may even progress from the Appeal Court system to the Supreme Court.

Both sides appealing sentence

In January the Northern Karelia District Court sentenced the man to 14 and a half years in prison for the manslaughter charges as well as aggravated involuntary manslaughter, abandonment, alcohol offences, pimping and assault.

The defence team is appealing the conviction and sentencing. Seppänen replaced his lawyer before the appeal hearings began.

Meanwhile the prosecution is appealing the lower court’s decision to dismiss two charges of attempted manslaughter against Seppänen. The district prosecutor is also seeking a tougher sentence for two manslaughter charges as well as the alcohol and pimping offences.

The prosecutor wants the court to hand down a 15-year prison sentence and to order a public safety assessment of the felon. The lower court refused a previous request for such an evaluation during the earlier case.

The Court of Appeal can only order the safety assessment if Seppänen's guilty verdict is upheld. It could take months to complete, and a final verdict would only be handed down when the court has the evaluation. If an individual is determined to be especially dangerous, it affects his or her chances of a suspended sentence.

Appeal to be heard in two locations

Hearings will take place in Kuopio and Joensuu, since the drownings took place in both areas. The Kuopio court will retry a case from 2007, in which Seppänen was found guilty on three counts of attempted manslaughter. The Joensuu judge will also consider the other charges that the defendant has appealed.

The Kuopio court will deal with a case from 2010, in which Seppänen was convicted of manslaughter for the drowning death of one man. The courts face a difficult task, due to the number of witnesses to be heard and the fact that some of the offences occurred up to 10 years ago.

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