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Uferweg crime scene: Forensics in the hours after Leon's death in the holiday resort of Sankt Johann in August 2022

Photo: Georg Köchler;

Zoom Tyrol / dpa

A press conference begins later in the morning in an Innsbruck city center hotel in the “Seefeld area”.

Outside, the first rays of sunlight were just breaking through the fog when Albert Heiss began a veritable verbal attack.

About two dozen media people listen as the experienced lawyer verbally attacks the Innsbruck public prosecutor's office.

The experienced lawyer accuses the investigators of "inadequate forensics and evaluation" and "violation of the principles of objectivity" - the authorities focused on his client as a possible perpetrator far too early and thus tended to ignore possible exculpatory facts.

In addition, the authorities “completely misjudged” the accused’s motives.

The mishap allegations are also directed against the State Criminal Police Office.

It is still unclear who the perpetrator is in this case.

The victim is clear: it is a dead child.

Leon A., six years old and with a congenital handicap, drowned in a mountain river, the Kitzbüheler Ache, early in the morning in August 2022 in the Austrian holiday resort of Sankt Johann.

Previously, his father was said to have been knocked unconscious by an unknown person while walking along the riverside path and the helpless child got into the rushing water - at least that's Leon's father's version.

The death and the unsolved robbery caused shock and sympathy that reached far beyond the borders of Austria.

A year ago there was a turning point that only increased the horror: the authorities arrested the father.

He is suspected of faking the attack and being behind his son's death.

The investigators believed that the father wanted to save his son, who was terminally ill with the rare Syngap syndrome, the lawyer at the time said after the arrest: A suspected crime as a way out of a desperate family situation - the father denies all allegations.

Since then, the dead boy's father has been in custody, and in a few days it will be the first anniversary of his imprisonment.

He has now changed his defense attorney, Albert Heiss, who is well known in Tyrol, is now defending him with a frontal attack on the investigators.

The lawyer says he has been in the business for 45 years now: "This procedure is preventing me from retiring."

“It might as well have been a baseball bat.”

Heiss expands his points of attack, seconded by his colleague Mathias Kapferer, who represents the mother.

The lawyer claims that the work at the crime scene was done improperly and the evidence cannot be used.

Only half of the shards of the possible murder weapon, a glass bottle, were picked up - the rest were disposed of by a community employee.

No splinters were found on the father's head, lawyer Kapferer tells SPIEGEL and STANDARD.

We don't even know for sure that the bottle was the weapon, "it could just as well have been a baseball bat."

The family has obtained a good dozen reports, say the lawyers, including from experts from German-speaking countries.

An expert made around “17 attempts to hit” himself.

According to the result, it is supposed to be absurd that the father could have inflicted the wound on the back of his head on himself.

And then traces of male DNA were discovered in the neck of the bottle, says Heiss.

Not only there: they also found what they were looking for on two cigarette butts; there were hits in the database in each case.

The defense attorney doesn't know whether the men can provide an alibi for the time of the crime.

But there is still another gene trace.

“Male DNA was found on the overall that Leon was wearing when he died,” says lawyer Kapferer, specifically “in the chest area.”

This DNA has not yet been attributed to anyone, says Kapferer.

The sample does not suit the father, family acquaintances or rescue personnel.

But who else touched Leon's clothes?

Heiss and Kapferer also try to pick apart the findings that served as the basis for the investigators to take Leon's father into custody.

The fact that the investigators found that the father had searched for the word "fainting" on Google before Leon's death would have contributed to the "prejudgment" (Heiss).

The public prosecutor viewed this as evidence of the father's preparation to simulate the stranger's alleged knockout blow.

Public Prosecutor's Office: Lawyers want to influence the court

But a private expert is said to have found a comprehensive explanation for this critical point.

Accordingly, Family A. is said to have spent around six weeks on holiday on the Italian Adriatic.

In a restaurant there, Leon's sister asked whether contact with fire jellyfish was dangerous.

And then the father checked his cell phone.

According to the lawyers, this version is also supported by the A. family; Leon's grandparents, who were present at the time, gave corresponding explanations.

The father only looked at the page for about eleven seconds, says Kapferer.

As long as you look at your cell phone when a toddler really wants to know something and you quickly read something up.

Does this erode a significant aspect that burdens father A.?

The press conference does not represent the big turning point, but there are now several inconsistencies in the room.

The Innsbruck public prosecutor's office responded to Heiss and Kapferer's accusations a few hours after the press conference.

The prosecutors aggressively parry the allegations in a written statement: If the defense interprets the results of the investigation in their own way, then they are obviously interested in "influencing the future judges - probably jurors - right now."

The public prosecutor's office will "endeavour to end the investigation quickly."

The authority did not respond to further, more detailed questions from SPIEGEL.

“We will not comment on the results of the evidence or on the defense’s requests and submissions during the ongoing investigation.”

Nothing tangible yet

The defense's media cannonade has a weak point anyway: the lawyers presented nothing tangible at the press conference, no collection of facts or exculpatory reports.

Heiss and Kapferer don’t even want to name the experts they consulted – at least not at this point in time.

That could possibly change soon.

Because this Friday, the defense attorney and public prosecutor's office are meeting in Innsbruck.

The court will then decide whether Leon's father must remain in custody or not.

The lawyers say that the family is not doing well at all - even if Leon's mother is "absolutely loyal" to her husband: "She believes one hundred percent that he did not commit the crime," says Kapferer.

Leon's father lost his job, the reports and legal fees piled up to immense sums.

From an economic point of view, this is a “horror idea,” says Heiss.

The situation is similar when it comes to social reputation, especially when it comes to the question of guilt.

Of course, the presumption of innocence also applies until a legally binding conviction is made.

According to senior lawyer Heiss, the population in Leon's homeland has probably already largely solidified their opinion as a result of the long pre-trial detention: "If you ask someone on the street in St. Johann, they will answer: 'It must have been him.' .'"