Swedish man's murder conviction overturned after true-crime podcast investigation

Inspired by 'Serial', the makers of 'Spår' helped set free one of the country's most controversial convicts

A Swedish man who spent 13 years in prison after being convicted of murder has been released after new details were uncovered by a true-crime podcast.

Kaj Linna was sentenced to life for robbery and murder in Kalamark in the north of Sweden in 2004, in spite of the fact there was no forensic evidence or witnesses who could place him at the scene.

In April 2004, two brothers were attacked on a farm, roughly 20km from Piteå, a town to the northwest of the Gulf of Bothnia separating Sweden from Finland.

One of the two brothers was murdered in the assault, with the other discovered two days after the attack by authorities. Having suffered a stroke, he claimed to be able to identify the voice of the aggressor as a man with whom he and his brother had previously done business, and who had acted in a menacing way towards them.

That man was investigated by police, but provided an alibi for his whereabouts. During his interviews,however, he also pointed the finger at Linna as a suspect, offering the name of a third man who could offer corroboration.

The third man became the prosecution’s main witness when charges were brought against Kaj Linna, testifying that Linna had told him he was planning to rob the brothers on their farm.

Having always maintained his innocence, Linna’s ongoing legal battle for a retrial is a well-documented case in the Swedish media, with DN journalist Stefan Lisinksi having written about glaring errors in the witness’s testimony.

Last year, an episode of Spår, which translates from Swedish as ‘evidence’ or ‘clue’, a popular podcast presented by two journalists named Anton Berg and Martin Johnson, covered the Linna conviction across five episodes.

Anton Berg (right) and Martin Johnson (left), presenters of the Spår podcast [Acast]

In one episode, featuring an interview with the prosecution’s star witness, the man changed details of his story, making it significantly different from the account he told the detectives investigating the crime in 2004. This was compounded when that witness also gave a new version of his story to a filmmaker producing a documentary about the Linna case.

This prompted Sweden’s Supreme Court to order a retrial, with the Judge Margareta Bergström finding Linna innocent this week.

“Our conclusion is that the evidence presented in the trial is insufficient and therefore cannot lead to conviction,” she said.

Speaking outside the Övre Norrland courthouse, Linna told the waiting journalists he will pursue a case against the Swedish authorities for wrongful imprisonment and would be seeking financial damages.

“My time is jail was completely wasted, worthless,” he said.

The Swedish press speculates that Linna could be awarded a significant sum of money in a legal payout; precedent was set by the case of Joy Rahman, who spent eight years in jail after being wrongly convicted of a woman’s murder. After being released in 2002, Rahman received 10.2m kronor (€1m) in compensation.

Spår is produced by the Acast podcasting network, with each episode of the Serial-inspired show reaching 300,000 Swedish-speakers around the world.

Speaking to the BBC, podcast host Martin Berg said: "We're very happy and relieved. We are frankly impressed that a podcast could have this kind of impact."

"Spår hosts Anton and Martin should be amazingly proud that their series has helped bring about justice for Kaj Linna and that he can now walk free, though the tragedy of the last 13 years can never be undone," Karl Rosander, Spår executive producer and co-founder of Acast, told The Local on Thursday.

"This result is a landmark moment for podcasts as a cultural phenomenon. It shows that not only can podcasts inform and entertain, but they can also form investigations that shape real-life events."

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