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Irishwoman fights to free husband from Cretan jail

Mark Marku was in Ireland when three of the seven armed robberies he was convicted for took place

Irishwoman Julie Marku hopes that testimony from expert witness Dr Greg Hampikian, a DNA specialist, will convince an appeal court on Crete in December that the forensics report used to sentence Mark Marku for armed robbery is unreliable and misleading and does not prove he was involved

Mark and Julie Marku on their wedding day in Ireland in 2009 (Photo: Julie Marku) Mark and Julie Marku on their wedding day in Ireland in 2009 (Photo: Julie Marku) An Irishwoman who has been campaigning for three years to have her husband released from a Cretan prison where he was jailed following a conviction for armed robbery is hoping that the expert testimony from a renowned DNA expert will prove crucial in proving his innocence when the sentence comes up for appeal on December 4.

In January 2012, Mark Marku and four other men were convicted of a litany of charges including seven armed robberies that took place in Crete in 2010. He received an 18-year jail sentence.

But his Irish wife, Julie Marku, and her parents, Bill and Phyl O'Reilly, believe his trial was a miscarriage of justice, not least because Mark – who is an Albanian citizen – was in Ireland when three of the seven armed robberies he was convicted for took place.

Even though he was able to provide alibis, flight records and affidavits that could prove this, these were disregarded by the prosecution as forgeries and dismissed by the judge.

They add that the prosecution failed to provide any evidence for 11 of the 16 charges brought against him.

Moreover, at the trial three witnesses claimed they could identify Mark Marku by face and body type in three separate robberies, despite admitting that the raiders wore masks which would make it impossible to identify the perpetrators of the robberies by their facial features.

In addition, Mark's average 178cm height, his medium build and the fact that he has no particular or rare physical features would also make him difficult to distingish.

Another concern of the family is that a forensic report claiming to have found Mark's DNA on a pair of rubber gloves was used to convict Mark of a robbery on 5 June 2010, a date that he can prove he was was in Ireland.

Of nearly 100 items tested, the search and seizure report for the glove is the only one that does not exist, so the location, date and time of their discovery cannot be confirmed.

Trial of purpose

According to Mark's Athens-based lawyer, Leonidas Pegiadis, the trial was "a trial of purpose, to restore faith in the police and the courts". On the robbery dates that Mark was in Crete, Pegiadis believes the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mark was involved, in his closing argument at the trial, Pegiadis stated that the evidence that emerged was either unreliable or completely absent.

In an unprecedented move the Irish Innocence Project has joined Marku's defence team, assisting Pegiadis in verifying the Irish evidence and alibis. They are also sending Dr Greg Hampikian, a DNA expert from the Idaho Innocence Project, who will testify at the trial on how this report is unreliable and misleading and does not prove Mark Marku was involved.

"The Irish Innocence Project became involved in Mark's case over a year ago after being contacted by his wife, Julie. Usually the Innocence Project only gets involved in a case after the final appeal has been heard, but because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Mark's conviction we decided to work on the case," said David Langwallner, the director of the Irish Innocence Project.

Life overturned

To date Mark has served three years, and Julie and her Irish parents have spent their life savings on Mark's legal case.

Julie and Mark met in Crete in 2007 when Julie was travelling around Greece for the summer. They fell in love and lived and worked there for two years, then were married in Ireland in April 2009.

That December the couple moved to Ireland to settle down, and Julie got work in a creche. Mark, a plasterer and waiter in Crete, was finding it impossible to find work in Ireland, so when his older brother said he had a small bit of construction work in Crete, Mark flew back a number of times in 2010 to help out on site.

Julie says her quiet life turned into a dramatic legal battle in September 2010 when she got a phone call saying her husband, Mark, saying he had been arrested in Crete and charged, with seven other Albanian men, with a spate of armed robberies that had taken place on the island that summer. Three of the accused were acquitted. 

"The past three years have been a living nightmare, we've had the appeal date moved back four times. Now that the appeal is confirmed for December 4, we are working to ensure that all the evidence is in place, and can't be disregarded. We want to bring Mark home for Christmas. We'd like to thank the Irish foreign ministry for validating the alibi's and other paperwork, and we are appreciative of the Irish Innocence Project and Mark's defence team for bringing their expertise to this miscarriage of justice," Julie Marku said.

She has worked tirelessly in campaigning to highlight Mark's case in Ireland, where the family has organised a number of protests to raise awareness among the public, politicians and the Greek embassy. 

Her father Bill, who has stood behind the couple throughout, described how the case has been riddled with "inconsistencies, irregularities and procedural shortcomings" on the part of the Cretan police and prosecution since the family's ordeal began.

"We hope people will support his appeal case by calling for and observing that this appeal be heard within the statutes of European Union law (of which Greece and Ireland are both signatories). We need to ensure that the Crete appeal court acknowledges and takes into consideration all of the irrefutable evidence brought before it, including the evidence validated with the Irish foreign ministry apostille."

* For more information, visit the Justice for Mark and Andreas campaign website, Facebook page or @FreeMarku on Twitter

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