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Tour guide appeals his conviction for murder

By SPP Reporter

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Rebecca Johnson, Karel Frybl, Radek Kovac
Rebecca Johnson, Karel Frybl, Radek Kovac

AN appeal against a murder conviction is under way by a tour guide who killed his girlfriend in a brutal stabbing frenzy in the Lapland wilderness.

Czech national Karel Frybl and his girlfriend Rebecca Johnson were working at a remote husky ranch in Enontekiö in December 2016 when she was killed.

Frybl, who also used the name Radek Kovac, confessed to killing Miss Johnson at a trial in Lapland District Court last year.

The former soldier had lived in the strath for five years – latterly with Miss Johnson – before the couple moved to work in the Arctic Circle.

Frybl says he blacked out during the attack which left Johnson (26) with more than 30 stab wounds to her head, chest, back, abdomen and thigh.

Defence lawyers lodged an appeal against the murder conviction, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Under Finnish law, Frybl's original conviction and the new appeal hinge on whether Miss Johnson's killing reached the criminal threshold for murder, requiring some degree of premeditation, or for the death to have been particularly brutal.

At the original trial, Frybl's lawyer Katri Mäkinen argued the killing was not sufficiently brutal or prolonged to qualify as a murder. The judges disagreed.

After the conviction handed down in February, Frybl had the right to an appeal.

Witnesses started giving evidence again in person on Tuesday in the Finnish city of Rovaniemi. The hearing is expected to last two days.

Frybl's lawyer Katri Mäkinen confirmed her team will not introduce any new evidence during the appeal.

"The juridical question here is if the defendant is guilty of manslaughter or murder. The defendant has pleaded guilty of manslaughter but denies the murder," Ms Mäkinen told News Now Finland.

The killing sparked a huge manhunt for Frybl across one of Europe's most remote wilderness areas.

Local police chased Frybl on snowmobiles, and the Border Guard closed the frontier with Sweden as they searched for him in a helicopter.

He was found a few kilometres away with the couples' huskies, with his shirt off and suffering from exposure as the temperature plunged to -30°C.

The murder sent shockwaves through the tight-knit Lapland community as well as the strath.

The couple had come to Enontekiö just a few months before to work as tour guides giving husky sled rides to tourists, employed by a UK-based travel company.

There were claims of physical and verbal abuse on both sides, but on the morning of Miss Johnson's murder she phoned a co-worker at the tour company's local office and finally admitted she was in an abusive relationship.

Miss Johnson claimed Frybl had kicked her in the stomach, and that she wanted their employer to remove him from the Enontekiö home they shared with one other colleague.

The only other person at the remote husky farm was another guide, Joe Pickles.

He was just a few metres outside the couple's cabin at the time. Mr Pickles told the court in August 2017, crying as he struggled to give evidence, that when he opened the cabin door he saw Frybl standing over his girlfriend who was slumped in a pool of blood but still alive.

He made eye contact with the injured woman, a moment that Mr Pickles says he recalled night after night following the attack.

He testified: "I couldn't see the damage to her body, but from what I could see, she had been cut like this" – he made a slashing motion with his hand across his face – "she was gone at this point. I touched her, and I realised she was gone."

After sending Frybl for psychiatric tests, and several months of deliberations, the judges found him guilty of murder.

The judges said they agreed with the psychiatrist's conclusions and that Frybl had been in full control of his actions. They cited his attempts to flee the scene of the crime and evade capture, as well as several self-inflicted shallow cuts to his own body that he tried to blame on Miss Johnson, as evidence of his clear-headed thinking in the hours after the attack.

The court described the blitz stabbing attack as "brutal and cruel".

"Numerous knife wounds showed determination, perseverance, and cold-bloodedness," said the judges.

Miss Johnson's family was expected to travel to Rovaniemi for the appeal court hearing.

A verdict is expected next month but legal experts say it is not common for a murder conviction to be overturned in cases like this.

Community couple

Frybl lived at several different addresses in the strath in his five years here before heading to work in Lapland.

He was employed at the Ellis Brigham store on Aviemore's Grampian Road and on Alvie Estate by Kincraig.

He was also a member of the Cairngorm Runners Club where he was regarded as a top-class runner. The couple were both keen husky dog racers.

It is believed they lived at High Burnside in Aviemore and also in Tulloch, by Nethy Bridge. Miss Johnson, originally from Fife, was well-known locally for providing dog obedience classes.

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