Was Wrong Man Convicted in Palme Murder?

Sven Olof Joachim Palme, a Socialist prime minister of Sweden who advocated nuclear disarmament, was leaving the Grand Cinema in Stockholm with his wife, Lisbeth Palme, on February 28, 1986, when he was shot dead by a solitary assailant.

For the next 33 months, millions of dollars and thousands of hours were dedicated to the hunt for the killer. An $8 million reward was offered for information leading to the conviction of his slayer or slayers.

A world figure involved in many international disputes, Palme had numerous enemies. Assassination theories abounded: Palme had allegedly been slain by Iranians or Iraqis whose conflicts he tried to mediate; neo-Nazis had killed the would-be peacemaker; a right wing group within the Swedish police murdered him for being a Soviet spy; Chilean or South African agents had assassinated Palme.

Many lives were touched

The question of who killed Palme affected many individuals. Stockholm Police Chief Hans Holmer spent a year investigating a Kurdish connection theory. When the theory collapsed, both Holmer and the chief prosecutor, Claes Zeime, were fired. When it was discovered that Justice Minister Anna-Greta Leijon had illegally authorized a covert, privately funded probe of the case by publisher Ebbe Carlsson, she was forced to resign.

On December 14, 1988, Stockholm police arrested Carl Gustav Christer Pettersson. A 41-year-old former mental patient with a history of alcoholism, drug abuse and violence, including a 1980 manslaughter conviction for the bayonet stabbing of a drug addict only blocks from where Palme was slain, Pettersson denied murdering the prime minister. Said the ex-convict with 17 prior arrests and four stays in prison on his record: “I am a killer but not a murderer.”

Special privileges for widow

Palme’s reclusive widow, Lisbeth Palme, insisted the court grant her special privileges before she would testify. She demanded that she be shown only a videotape of Pettersson in a lineup, that police agree not to videotape her testimony, and that Pettersson would be absent from the courtroom during her testimony.

Palme said she was “absolutely certain” that Pettersson killed her husband. A jury later decided that the prearranged conditions tainted her testimony, and the case against Pettersson rested on her identification, which was only partially corroborated by five other witnesses, who said they had seen either Pettersson or someone who looked like him wait outside the movie theater and then stalk the couple. No murder weapon was ever found, and no motive was established.

Pettersson consistently denied the attack, telling police he spent the night of the murder in a nearby nightclub. On July 27, 1989, a split jury found Pettersson guilty. He was given a life sentence.

The two dissenting jury members, both judges, contended that the prosecution had failed to prove its case, relying on circumstantial evidence and uncertain identifications.

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