DVD Review: Execution According to the Law (Aðför að lögum)

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The story of how a murder investigation nearly toppled Iceland’s government.

Casting a long shadow on the integrity of Iceland’s legal system, the wrongful conviction of six people for two murders is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in the nation’s history.

On the night of January 26th, 1974 Gudmundur Einarsson, an 18 year old labourer, went to a dance hall in Hafnarfjordur, a port town 10km south of Reykjavik. When the venue closed at two in the morning he attempted to trek home despite the harsh winds and heavy snow. Two girls driving through the town claimed to have seen Gudmundur and an aggressive drunk attempting to hitchhike.

Later that morning Gudmundur was spotted trying to make his way home alone through the thick snow. According to a witness report he was heavily intoxicated and fell in front of an oncoming car. This would be the last known sighting of Gudmundur.

When Gudmundur failed to turn up for work he was reported missing. Not suspecting foul play, the police conducted a thorough search. Unable to find any trace of Gudmundur’s whereabouts the file was closed after two weeks pending further evidence.

Ten months later Geirfinnur Einarsson (no relation), a 32 year old digger-driver, returned home from work. A colleague had invited him to go and see a film at the local cinema. Geirfinnur declined the offer, claiming he had to be meet someone later that night. The colleague drove Geirfinnur to a nearby cafe where he bought a packet of cigarettes. Returning home he answered the phone and was heard by his wife saying “I’ve been there already. I’ll be there”. He went out again, drove his car and parked near to the cafe. Geirfinnur was last seen in a phone booth. The keys were left in his car’s ignition waiting for a driver who would never return.

Credited with changing public perceptions of the case, Einar Magnús Magnússon’s documentary Execution According to the Law presents a forensic examination of the investigation and trials. Using a combination of archive footage, newly recorded interviews, and reconstructions the film presents an in depth analysis of the case that examines the justice system’s failings and asks how six people could be convicted without any evidence.

The astonishing story of Iceland’s most notorious murder investigation reveals a police force ill equipped to handle a murder investigation and exposes the abuse inflicted upon the accused and its traumatic consequences.

Six petty criminals known to the police for alcohol and drug smuggling became prime suspects in the investigation. Initially denying any involvement all six would confess to their involvement in double murder after being broken by lengthy interrogations, repeated bouts of torture and extended periods of solitary confinement.

Attempts to withdraw the statements were dismissed by the Supreme Court.

To date the police have found no physical evidence of murder.

Halfway through the investigation an embattled government facing a toxic cocktail of the Cod War and a general strike enlisted the services of German “super cop” Karl Schutz to oversee the investigation. Employing a more forceful style of interrogation Schutz extracted fresh confessions that enabled all six to be found guilty for their part in a double murder.

Execution According to the Law is a sobering lesson in what can happen when law enforcement agencies are under pressure to deliver swift results. An enthralling, enraging, and perplexing tragedy. Einar Magnús Magnússon’s documentary is a sterling example of investigative journalism.

A real-life Nordic Noir for crime fans yearning to watch something new after Making a Murderer and The Jinx.  

Eymundsson are currently stocking a subtitled DVD.

Quentin Bates’ chapter in Truly Criminal: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology of True Crime provides an exhaustive overview of this case and its continued relevance.

A 2014 BBC World Service documentary interviewed surviving suspects.

Iceland Monitor report on recent arrests in relation to the murder of Guðmundur Einarsson.

Sagafilm is producing a new documentary about The Guðmundar- and Geirfinnur Case for BBC and Netflix.

Iceland Review report on a new book containing a confession to the killing of Geirfinnur Einarsson

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