A judge in Rovaniemi has sent a Czech man for psychiatric evaluations, after he confessed in court to killing Scottish tour guide Rebecca Johnson in Enontekio last December.
But although he admits to killing her in a frenzied knife attack, Karel Frybl denies the more serious charge of murder which carries a mandatory life sentence. His defence is that he blanked out and has no memory of the fatal attack, and that Johnson stabbed him first.
Former soldier Frybl – who used the name Radek Kovac during his three year relationship with the woman – wept at times in court as he described their relationship. The couple moved to Enontekiö in October 2016 to work for Santa Safaris, giving husky sled rides to tour groups from the UK.
During the two day trial, a panel of judges heard the couple had argued in the days before Johnson’s death. There were claims of physical and verbal abuse on both sides.
But on the morning of her death, Rebecca Johnson had phoned coworker Caitlin Howard and finally admitted she was in an abusive relationship. She claimed Frybl had kicked her in the stomach, and that she wanted their employer to remove him from the husky farm where they worked, giving guided sledge rides to tourists.
During that phone call, Caitlin Howard heard Johnson scream three times, and the phone went dead.
The only other person at the remote husky farm was another guide, Joe Pickles. He was just a few metres outside the couples’ cabin in minus 30 degree temperatures, when he also heard Rebecca scream three times.
“I ran to the cabin and pulled open the door” Pickles told the court, crying as he struggled to give his evidence.
“I said ‘Radek stop, stop’. Becky said ‘Joe, call an ambulance he’s stabbed me'”.
Pickles says when he opened the door he saw Frybl standing over Johnson who was slumped in a pool of blood but still alive. He made eye contact with the injured woman, a moment that Pickles says he recalled night after night following the attack.
Pickles went back outside to phone emergency services, and in that call, played to the court, he says he feared for his life, and thought Frybl would try to kill him too. After a short while, Pickles went back inside to check on Rebecca.
“When I returned to the cabin and saw Becky, the injuries looked worse than when I first saw her” he said.
“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”.
Court documents show Rebecca Johnson received ten fatal stab wounds to the upper torso, and 30 other knife wounds to other parts of her body.
As Pickles cried, Rebecca Johnson’s father got up from the desk where he was sitting with his wife and two other adult children, and gave Pickles a handkerchief. It was a simple human interaction, in what can otherwise be a very clinical Finnish legal process.
At the start of the trial the Johnson family, who were all wearing purple ribbons to highlight the issues of interpersonal violence, had to lodge a claim with the court for loss of earnings and travel expenses, and put a price tag on the grief and anguish they’ve suffered.
The family was represented in court by their own lawyer, separate from the state prosecutors, who was also allowed question witnesses and the accused.
The case now hinges on whether Karel Frybl’s guilt reaches the criminal threshold for murder in Finland, which would require some degree of premeditation, or for the death to have been particularly brutal. Frybl’s lawyer argues that it was not sufficiently brutal or prolonged to qualify for murder, as Johnson died quickly.