Lihula shooter sentenced to 20 years' prison time

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Mikk Tarraste in court for Thursday's sentencing.
Mikk Tarraste in court for Thursday's sentencing. Source: Verner Vilgas/ERR

A court sentenced the Lihula shooter, who killed two people in the southwestern Estonian town of the same name last summer during a shooting spree which also seriously injured three others, to 20 years in prison Thursday. The prosecutor's office is appealing the decision and seeking a lengthier jail term.

Pärnu County Court sentenced the suspect, Mikk Tarraste Thursday. Gardi Anderson, senior prosecutor at the West District Prosecutor's Office, said after the sentence had been read out that the office would be appealing the decision on the grounds of proportionality; the prosecutor had sought a life sentence.

Shouts of "shame on the Estonian state" were heard from the public gallery after the sentence had been read.

Tarraste's sincere apology made on more than one occasion was a mitigating factor in his sentencing, BNS reports.

In his final deposition to the court, Tarraste, 33, broadly accepted his guilt, and attempted to explain his actions.

"For the most part, I have accepted the charges," Tarraste said, according to BNS.

"However, I remain of the opinion that I have not committed any crime in order to conceal another."

Trial began in February

Tarraste was referring to the charges that he had fled the scene of an accident he had precipitated in order to divert attention from the fact he was carrying firearms in his vehicle. The shootings followed on from this initial incident, which took place in a gas station forecourt on June 6 last year.

"I had no intention of killing anyone. I have not approached a victim while they lay on the ground and shot them again. Why this event happened, I am analyzing to this day. In all likelihood, I sensed a danger to my life and acted. Then I sensed an even greater danger, and acted intuitively. I am responsible for my actions and the consequences," Tarraste added, also issuing a sincere apology to the victims' and his own family members, BNS reports.

Tarraste's trial began in February with an admission of guilt and acceptance of all civil actions brought against him.

He pleaded not guilty to concealing crimes and fleeing the initial crime scene, at a gas station. Tarraste added that he maintains his earlier public apology and expression of regret.

The prosecutor's office western district charged Tarraste with murder committed in a manner which was dangerous to the public, and with unlawful handling of ammunition. 

Statement of charges

According to the statement of charges, on the evening of June 6 2020, while under the influence of alcohol and in violation of the Weapons Act, Tarraste conveyed firearms in his passenger car and then precipitated a traffic accident at a gas station near Lihula, Pärnu County.

The accused then fled the scene in an attempt to conceal these lesser violations, but shot a motorcyclist who had pursued him, plus two passenger vehicles carrying nine people between them.

The motorcyclist was killed and one of the cars was hit; however, the passengers in that vehicle did not sustain any injuries

Tarraste is reported to have proceeded along the Tuudi-Raudtee road towards his farm and then repeatedly fired off rounds at another car which had the ill fortune to have been driving in his direction.

A woman passenger, seated in the back seat, was killed, and two children sustained severe injuries. The male driver of the vehicle was also injured.

Tarraste allegedly continued firing at the vehicle even after it had stopped and its occupants were incapacitated, and also opened fire on by-standers and the police, once they arrived, before proceeding on foot in the same direction he had been driving.

Tarraste was charged with having opened fire on police officers further along the Tuudi-Raudtee road, in the vicinity of a nearby rail station.

The prosecutor's office says the killing of two, serious wounding of four and endangering the lives of many others had been intentional, despite having been found to be under the influence of alcohol and prescription drugs after being arrested.

Judge: Murder always constitutes an extremely brutal crime

"Murder always constitutes an extremely brutal crime. Section 114 of the Penal Code stipulates that the minimum punishment for murder is eight years' imprisonment and the maximum punishment 20 years' or life imprisonment," judge Rubo Kikerpill in his summing up Thursday.

As a supplementary punishment, BNS reports, the court deprived Tarraste of the right to acquire, store, convey and carry weapons and ammunition for the maximum term provided by the law.

According to judicial practice, a life sentence is handed to convicted offenders who have repeatedly committed murder or attempted murder. This punishment is also meted out tooffenders who have previously committed severe crimes, such as causing grievous bodily harm, rape or robbery, and who have served a long prison sentence as punishment but have failed to draw any conclusions from it.

In addition to this, a court must also take into consideration mitigating and aggravating circumstances when deciding on the punishment.

Tarraste has no criminal record in respect of severe crimes and has no extant criminal penalties to his name.

Tarraste apologized to the victims in court and expressed sincere regret for his actions. Considering Tarraste's expression of regret and the fact that has not previously committed any severe crimes, the court sentenced him to 20 years in prison, plus an additional punishment of five years. The court deems that a 20-year prison sentence should prevent an offender who has not previously not been incarcerated from committing any crimes in the future.

Tarraste accepted his guilt to the shootings when the trial opened in February, including in civil actions brought against him, though pleaded not guilty to his attempts to conceal any crimes or flee the scene.

Prosecutor: Tarraste should get life

In late April, Gardi Anderson, senior prosecutor at the West District Prosecutor's Office, said that Tarraste's guilt had been proven, meaning he should be punished to the full extent of the law.

Andersen said: "He shot a motorcyclist and the cars following it in an attempt to conceal misdemeanors committed, and to make it back to his farm unhindered."

"Due to his training in weapons and medicine, he knew full well what consequences shooting at people can bring," Anderson went on. Tarraste is a former member of the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit). 

"It is difficult to determine the circle of injured parties in this criminal case. Humanely speaking, it was not just those people who were physically struck by rounds fired that were the injured party. The rounds could have hit anyone in the area. Survival would have been a matter of chance in this case. This is what the concept of a 'manner which is dangerous to the public' means, in the statement of charges," she added.

The prosecutor sought a sentence of life imprisonment for Tarraste, while his defense counsel, Runno Roosmaa, argued for a lighter sentence and for Tarraste's acquittal on the charge of committing a crime for the purposes of concealing another, earlier crime.

Gardi Anderson said Tarraste's guilt has been proven and he must be given the maximum sentence allowed by the law, while after Thursday's sentence was read out, Anderson said the office would be appealing the decision and seeking a lengthier sentence, adding the sentence should be commensurate with the act.

A video (no sound) of Tarraste being led into the courtroom, judge Rubo Kikerpill reading out the sentence, and being led out again, is below.

This piece was updated to include the prosecutor's office announcement that they would be appealing the sentence, information on the rationale behind his sentence length, statements from judge Rubo Kikerpill, and the courtroom video clip.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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