The Australian man Jock Palfreeman could face another two months behind bars before he finds out if he will be freed, after Bulgaria’s highest court adjourned a hearing about whether to overturn his parole.
The 32-year-old Sydney man was found guilty of murder over the 2007 stabbing death of a 23-year-old student, Andrei Monov, in Sofia.
Two weeks ago, Palfreeman was granted parole on appeal, a decision that sparked outrage from some in Bulgaria, including the dead man’s father and rightwing nationalist political parties.
Palfreeman couldn’t be removed from the country immediately because he didn’t have a passport.
The furore over his parole prompted Bulgaria’s prosecutor general to make an extraordinary petition to the court to revoke Palfreeman’s release.
On Monday, the supreme court of cassation heard from the prosecution and from Palfreeman’s lawyer. Palfreeman did not appear, according to local media reports.
The three-judge bench has two months to hand down its decision on Palfreeman’s liberty. He is being held in an immigration detention centre near Sofia while he awaits the outcome.
Palfreeman has served almost 11 years of a 20-year sentence for fatally stabbing Monov and injuring Antoan Zahariev in Sofia in 2007. He has maintained that he acted in self-defence, saying he had been attacked after intervening to prevent Monov and a group of more than a dozen men from assaulting two Roma men in the early hours of 28 December 2007.
Palfreeman, then 21 and enlisted in the British army, pleaded not guilty to murdering Monov and attempting to murder Zahariev. The Australian was carrying a large butterfly knife belonging to a friend, and said he had the knife because he’d previously been assaulted in Sofia.
The prosecution alleged he had launched an unprovoked attack on the men. Palfreeman was convicted of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to 20 years in prison with a non-parole period of 10 years. His conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal to higher courts.
In July, Palfreeman’s request for parole was denied. But on 19 September a panel of three appeal judges overturned that decision. According to Bulgarian law, that decision was final. He was moved the next day into immigration detention. However, in the resulting political furore, his transfer was delayed because he lacked documents and the prosecutor general made his extraordinary intervention.
The Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, has raised Palfreeman’s case directly with her Bulgarian counterpart, Ekaterina Zakharieva.
“I am concerned … that there may be a range of non-legal considerations … that are influencing this matter, and I want to be sure that the law is being applied consistently.
“I am strongly of the view that he should be treated in accordance with Bulgarian law and that he be allowed to return to Australia immediately.”