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Financial toll on Irish family for husband's Crete appeal

Family spends €100,000 fighting what MEP says is 'miscarriage of justice'

Julie Marku and her family have spent their life savings trying to exonerate her husband Mark Marku, serving 18 years in a Greek prison for a series of armed robberies that he insists he did not commit

Julie Marku, seen here with her mother Phyl O'Reilly, collects money for her husband's appeal Julie Marku, seen here with her mother Phyl O'Reilly, collects money for her husband's appeal It's spring in Ireland. While most people are setting flowers in their gardens and planning their summer holidays, Julie Marku and her parents, Bill and Phyl O'Reilly, are out fundraising for a court appeal hearing this May in the Cretan city of Iraklio.

Julie hands out a flyer to a passerby, while an elderly couple drop a few coins into Phyl's collection bucket.

All that money will go to help free Mark Marku, Julie's Albanian husband, from prison, where is serving 18 years for a series of armed robberies that took place in Crete in 2010.

Mark Marku has maintained his innocence, not least because he can prove was in Ireland when three of the seven armed robberies he was convicted of took place.

His lawyer, Leonidas Pegiadis, believes the evidence the prosecution brought against him at his trial was either unreliable or absent.

The family has been busy collecting money for the appeal The family has been busy collecting money for the appeal 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. The family adds 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.

Since her husband's conviction, Julie Marku has been working tirelessly to have the Irish authorities verify, by apostilling, the documentary evidence proving he was in Ireland when many of these robberies took place.

Listen to Julie Marku speaking about the case on RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland's main public radio station (from the 40th to 58th minute)

His defence team has swelled to include members of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organisation dedicated to proving the innocence of wrongly convicted persons.

David Langwallner, director of the Irish Innocence Project said: "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. Mark's claim that he was in Ireland and not Greece during the robberies prompted us to search for and obtain evidence to prove that he was in Ireland at those times. We have worked closely with Mark's lawyer in Greece to ensure that a strong defence is put forward in his appeal. A colleague of ours from Idaho, renowned DNA expert Dr Greg Hampikian, has agreed to give expert evidence at Mark's appeal. We sincerely hope that Mark gets a fair trial in May as it appears that the justice system has failed him in the past."

Hampikian is expected to question a DNA report claiming to have found Mark Marku's DNA on a pair of rubber gloves alleged to have been used in a robbery that took place on 5 June 2010, a date he can prove he 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.

Irish MEP Paul Murphy, who aims to be in Crete in May, says that Marku's case "is clearly an incredible miscarriage of justice".

"His family have been campaigning tirelessly to see justice done. I hope we see that in the court in Crete so Mark can be reunited with his wife and family. It is incredible because at the end of all this, if Mark is proved innocent, he would have spent nearly four years in prison."

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) Back on the fundraising trail, Julie Marku hands out another flyer and stops to chat with a sympathetic passerby. With her husband's appeal six weeks away, her priority now is raising publicity about her husband's case and fundraising to cover the mounting legal costs.

To date, the family has spent about €100,000 fighting the case. 

"Mark and my family spent our life savings on his original trial, thinking Mark would be released on wrongful arrest. We can't believe this case has gone so far. And even though the Innocence Project are working for free, the financial cost of this international case is really high. We need to pay for Mark's lawyers fees and expenses, document translations, interpreters, flights to Crete and accommodation expenses. All of this will be substantial. When Mark's appeal got dramatically deferred on a legal technicality in December 2013, it cost us close to €20,000, and we came away with nothing. Since then we have had to start from scratch to raise the funds for May, and we are still a long way off."

Over the next few weeks Julie, her parents and their supporters have a busy roster of car boot sales, raffles and street collections to fundraise for the new date. For transparency, the donations all go into a trust and the case expenses come out of that. "We are so grateful to everyone who have supported us so far. We have a website where people have also supported us by donating online, and every cent is appreciated."

Julie is hopeful that Mark will be released in May, but nothing is guaranteed.

"I have realised that having this international team of experts, investigators and supporters in attendance will add weight to Marks defence,  but the reality is the only people who can change Mark's situation are the five judges that will hear the appeal. We will show them all the evidence we have, but only they have the power to overturn his conviction and set him free." 

Mark Marku's appeal is scheduled to be heard on the 7 May 2014 in Crete.

Car boot sales are among the ways Julie Marku and her family have been raising funds Car boot sales are among the ways Julie Marku and her family have been raising funds * For more information, visit the Justice for Mark and Andreas campaign websiteFacebook page or @FreeMarku on Twitter

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