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The Claes Borgström Interview
'Your former client Thomas Quick now claims to be completely innocent.'
DUCKPOND — The following is an excerpt from Hannes Råstam's coming book 'Thomas Quick: Creating a Serial Killer'. The book is due out this spring. Much of the book will focus on the part Claes Borgström played in this the biggest judicial scandal ever in Sweden save for the current case of Julian Assange. Borgström did virtually nothing for six years, let his client be convicted of murder on no evidence whatsoever in four cases, and ended up billing the government for over one half million dollars (SEK 5 million).
Outcries against Claes Borgström were everywhere. Dozens of books, hundreds of articles have been written. When the media found Borgström got paid astronomical sums for doing little more than taking leisurely walks in the park, they went through the roof.
The Thomas Quick case is more than Claes Borgström. But at the heart of the matter is the public defender: Borgström's predecessor resigned in protest after two years as Quick's defender as he wasn't allowed to satisfactorily protect his client's interests. Borgström was called in. By Quick himself, says Borgström. Borgström didn't hesitate to accept. The job was a Belgian blue cash cow and Borgström certainly wasn't going to have an ethical crisis as his predecessor. As Quick later told it, he and Borgström hardly ever met, hardly ever talked in those six years. Borgström never came to visit him, only met with him in the courtroom, and would then only talk for a minute or two before the proceedings began - talk about his wife, his family, what they'd seen on the telly the night before. Borgström's role in the Thomas Quick scandal was to take STFU intravenously. He performed above and beyond the call of duty.
Hannes Råstam was an investigative journalist for Swedish state television and was responsible for some of the most high profile documentaries of our times. He was awarded the Golden Spade five times and the Grand Prize in Journalism twice. He was also the recipient of several international awards including the Prix Italia, the Golden Nymph in Monte Carlo, and the FIPA d'Or in France.
Hannes Råstam passed away recently. He had four years of research that still had to be assembled into a single book, the definitive story of the Thomas Quick scandal. His television documentary sent shockwaves through the duckpond, but now it was time to write history. Unfortunately Sweden's best investigative journalist ever succumbed to cancer before the book could be finished. The book was otherwise expected last November, but Hannes was too weak to continue on his own.
Instead he had a good friend come in and consult with him and agree to finish the book for him.
The following excerpt from the coming book was published by Ordfront magasin in 2011.
[Note: the names Thomas Quick and Sture Bergwall are interchangeable. Quick was born Sture Ragnar Bergwall but took the name Thomas Quick when the investigations into the murders began in the 1990s. Claes Borgström left the case in 2000 and Quick soon tired of the exercise, called a 'time out' whereby he refused to 'cooperate' any longer, and reassumed his birth name. The references to Quick/Bergwall are based on the time of the events in question - whether he was Quick or Bergwall at the time.]
The Claes Borgström Interview
Claes Borgström was Thomas Quick's public defender at all the trials for the years 1995-2000 and with him at his side, Quick was convicted of six murders. Many people felt Borgström had made no effort to protect his client and been negligent in his duty to critically review the cases of prosecutor Christer van der Kwast.
That Borgström had thereafter billed the state for several million for his 'work' (it ended up being over 500,000 USD) didn't make many people more enamoured of him (but yes he got the money). Perhaps this was the reason Borgström so staunchly defends the convictions of Quick and the fact that he's been more aggressive than anyone else in his attacks on anyone who's dared challenge the police investigations and the verdicts?
It's early in the afternoon of Friday 14 November 2008 and I'm hanging out at a slapdash café not far from from LO-borgen. I'm waiting for the clock to strike 14:00. That's when my interview with Claes Borgström will begin. We've been planning this for a long time.
I'd interviewed chief prosecutor Christer van der Kwast the day before. I made him privy to the fact Sture Bergwall was taking back all his murder confessions. If Borgström found out about it, there wouldn't be an interview. And to avoid getting caught in chitchat with him, I hung out at the café until our photographer Lars Granstrand had the cameras and the lights set up. I'd arrive precisely at 14:00 and the interview would begin immediately.
Claes Borgström has always been a champion against oppression, for human rights, an engaging bloke with his heart on the political left, protecting the weak in society.
I'd been studying the Quick cases for months and I'd seen how he'd taken part in almost all of the interrogations and reenactments at crime scenes. I'd watched the videos of Thomas Quick being led around in the woods, so drugged out he couldn't speak and couldn't stand up on his own without his therapist and the chief interrogator supporting him. And Claes Borgström walked beside them, never once mentioning that his client was lit up like an Xmas tree. Borgström had also seen Quick admit to several murders that never happened. He'd seen facts twisted and hushed in the courts - he never intervened. Why not?
Something didn't match up with Claes Borgström. Who was he?
In 2000 the Social Democrat government offered Borgström a position as the country's first ever male ombudsman for equality. Borgström jumped off the Quick case right before the trial for the murder of Johan Asplund. After seven years as ombudsman for equality, Borgström joined forces with Thomas Bodström and started the law firm Borgström & Bodström with offices in the LO-borgen at Västmannagatan 4 in Stockholm. Borgström's new offices - with the former minister for justice as his partner, in a fancy building at a prestige address with the district HQ of LO Stockholm and the Social Democrat youth movement as neighbours - now there's a thought!
It was now 13:45. I got up to begin my trek over when my cellphone rang.
'Claes Borgström just rang me!' said an unusually excited Sture Bergwall. 'He hasn't spoken to Kwast! He doesn't know anything!'
Borgström told Bergwall he was going to be interviewed by Swedish state television. He said he was worried about the interview.
'So he went back and checked his figures for his invoices for three of the cases. He relaxed a bit after that. He'd invoiced them for one thousand hours work for the three cases you're going to interview him about.'
Knowing the details of his invoices must have made Borgström relax a bit. He'd think he knew more than me.
'He told me he reckoned you'd prepared for the interview for about a week', Sture told me and laughed.
Think if I could invoice like Borgström for my own working hours. I'd have been financially independent a long time ago.
'And you know what else he told me? Yep - he got himself one of those Social Democrat party books. He's hoping for a cabinet position after the next national election! Why did he tell me that? That's weird!'
'Yes that's weird', I agreed. But my thoughts were elsewhere. For I discovered I was now standing at the entrance to Västmannagatan 4. So we hung up and I ascended the fancy staircase and rang the doorbell at Borgström & Bodström.
Everything was set up. Claes Borgström turned up only a few minutes later. We got right to it. He asked me what my presumptions were for the interview. What angle I was going to use.
I told him truthfully that I'd had no idea in the beginning, but that over time I'd become more and more sceptical of the investigations. Borgström tried to size me up with his piercing blue grey eyes.
'So how much time have you spent on this?' he asked.
'About seven months', I told him and thought about my conversation with Sture.
'Seven months? Full time?'
Borgström looked incredulously at me when I explained it was more than full time.
I felt Granstrand's hand on my shoulder. That was the signal the cameras were rolling.
'I looked at three cases I was involved in', Borgström said. 'Therese, Appojaure, and Levi. I checked how much I'd invoiced for them. One thousand hours for all three.'
'You seem well prepared for this interview', I told him.
'Yes, it means I might know more about things than you.'
So I got off to an easy start and asked him to explain how he ended up as Quick's public defender.
'He rang me up during the ongoing investigation into the so called Appojaure murders and asked if I'd represent him. Of course I said I would! And then I stayed on for four trials spread out over several years.'
He told me all this without me even having to ask, and soon he got into the topic of defending a serial killer who came forward on his own to admit to the crimes.
'But that's not unique for defence counsel', Borgström protested. 'I've defended others who've confessed to murder.'
'But not when there are otherwise no suspicions about them?'
'True. Generally there's a suspicion and then the confession comes later', he admitted.
Claes Borgström was careful to point out that a confession is not enough for a conviction - that it must be supported by 'evidence'. But in the Quick cases, this 'evidence' was that he time and again told the police things that only the perpetrator could have known. He used the murder of nine year old Therese in Norway as an example.
I responded by showing him a photograph of Therese's suburb community Fjell with its high rise concrete everywhere - something Quick described in his testimony as a country village with small one storey family villas. Then I showed him a photo of Therese herself, a girl with black hair and dark skin. Quick had described her as a blonde. Then I showed him a reconstruction of the clothes Therese was wearing at the time of her disappearance.
'So why did Quick make so many errors when he tried to tell the police about the murders?'
'If you review all the documents you'll find a lot more errors!' said Borgström. 'The ones you're pointing out are but a few.'
Quick had also told the police Therese was wearing pink track pants, lacquered shoes and had prominent front teeth. Borgström looks at my pictures of Therese at the time of her disappearance: she's wearing a jeans skirt, moccasins, and has a big gap where her big front teeth are supposed to be.
'But he changed his testimony!' Borgström protested. 'That's how I remember it. He later said she had dark hair instead. And he talked about the buckles she had on her sandals. He was convicted because he supplied information that checked out and which cannot be explained other than by his having been present at the crime scenes!'
Claes Borgström is an unmistakably intelligent man. I want to believe he's intellectually honest. In my zeal to get him to understand, I tried to explain how Quick was given the information he needed. I told him about the articles in the Norwegian Verdens Gang where Quick demonstrably plucked all the information to make his first confession a convincing one.
'But not all the information', Borgström protested.
'Yes all the information', I corrected him.
'Not her atopic dermatitis', Borgström protested.
'That detail only came up a lot later', I clarified.
'But you said he got all his information from Verdens Gang!'
'No. I said he got all the information he needed to make his first confession a convincing one', I said dejectedly. 'He says she's a blonde! He says she had other clothes on! Everything he said was wrong!'
'Well not everything', Borgström protests again. 'He was right about the barrette. Not the buckles on the shoes.'
The fact is that at the time of her disappearance, Therese had her hair up with a blue barette and a rubber band. And after police interrogations for eight months, Quick said on 14 October 1996 that Therese indeed had a barette. And it might have been orange. And after yet another year, on 30 October 1997, he's saying Therese had a hair ribbon instead.
But hair ribbon? Barette? What difference did it make? I was getting nowhere with my interview. My strategy wasn't working.
How could a public defender who'd invoiced and been paid for one thousand hours work know so little about the cases he was involved in? Was it possible he'd missed the fact that Quick made so many bloopers that totally random answers could have given him better results?
I'd become yet another in a long line of stubborn experts who fussed over details no one else outside our small clique understood or cared about. And that made for really really bad television.
'The devil's in the details', I muttered to myself, but kept on with my idiotic attempt to explain how the media gave Quick all the details he wanted. Borgström wasn't the least bit interested. As far as he was concerned, the case was closed, Quick was convicted of eight murders, and he said he already regretted agreeing to this television interview.
I handed him a letter Thomas Quick had written to the Norwegian journalist Kåre Hunstad. Borgström read:
'I will meet with you on the condition you deposit SEK 20,000 ($3000-4000) in my bank account. My stereo loudspeakers broke and I need new ones. You must also show me the deposit slip when you arrive. Claes knows about this - you don't need to involve him at all. If you agree to these terms, I promise you it'll be a good interview - I get paid for my efforts and you get a great story.'
After reading the letter where it's revealed that Borgström himself is aware of the commercial aspect of Quick's confession, Borgström looked at me from behind his fringe and said with a forced indifference:
'How sick does one have to be to try something like this? Give me twenty thousand and I'll confess to a murder I didn't commit? And be locked away the rest of my life? Those who believe he's innocent are describing an individual who's just as sick today as when he committed those murders!'
Borgström the lawyer seemed to be saying it didn't matter if his client was guilty or innocent - he was just as crazy in either case. Borgström's logical path led into the next interview topic all by itself.
'Were you aware of the fact Quick was a substance abuser of benzodiazepines during all the investigations?'
'I won't respond to that question in that way', Borgström responded stuffily. 'But I knew he had a substance abuse problem. But not when he was at Säter!'
'Oh yes he did.'
'Yes. At the Säter hospital they called it 'pro re nata' - as often as needed. He could pluck all the benzodiazepines he wanted.'
'I do not accept that claim!'
'That's the statement of the chief MD at the hospital at the time', I pointed out. 'That's not my claim.'
'OK but I still don't accept that claim!' said Borgström. And that ended our discussion about Quick's medications.
There'd actually been forensic evidence in the investigation of the murder of Yenon Levi: a pair of glasses which bound a different suspect to the scene of the crime. The state forensic laboratory examined the glasses on two occasions and both times came to the same conclusion. So prosecutor Christer van der Kwast contacted technical staff at the Stockholm police department who said they could arrive at the opposite result. A statement from a policeman had thereby trumped the state forensic laboratory and the extensive examinations of the forensic engineers there.
'I'm not the defence counsel for the prosecutor, but I can't get away from the fact that there's an insinuation there - that the prosecutor wasn't satisfied until he got the results he wanted', said Borgström.
'What I find surprising is that you didn't use this information in the courtroom.'
'Yeah I can hear that you find it surprising!' Borgström snapped back sarcastically. 'But I have no comments!'
So I pulled out another document, this one a table of eighteen pieces of hard evidence which debunked Quick's stories. This was tangible evidence: they compared the tyre tracks at one crime scene with the tyres on the car Quick said he'd used - they didn't match. Quick said he'd rolled the Yenon Levi's body up in a dog's blanket - but there weren't any dog hairs or blanket fibres on the body. The blood stains on Levi's shoes didn't match the purported sequence of events. The soil stains on Levi's clothes matched the place the body was found, not the crime scene Quick talked about.
Forensic scientist Östen Eliasson summarised the information in the table with the following:
'There is nothing of substance in the forensic examination to support Quick's story.'
'There are eighteen forensic discoveries that debunk your client's story', I told Borgström.
'Oh yeah? Well maybe there are even more than that!' he snapped back arrogantly.
'And you couldn't use this in the courtroom to defend your client?'
'How was I supposed to do that?'
'Well I can think of several ways, but you're the lawyer. You know better than me.'
'Yeah well you can't tell me how to use it, so I won't bother answering the question!'
My strategy had been to lay out a few facts and then let the interviewees explain their viewpoints. But it wasn't working well. Borgström rejected everything I put his way.
Borgström said the investigation documents were so complex that one could find support for any allegation under the sun. And it made not one iota of difference if I found ninety claims that turned out to be false and only ten that were correct.
'It's enough to find one thing that is correct', he told me.
I had to ask again. Did he really mean - was he really saying - what it seemed he was saying?
'Ninety that are wrong and one that's correct?'
'Of course - if the one that's correct is strong enough to bind someone to a crime. But ultimately it's the court's task to decide.'
'Can you give me an example of this?'
'No! No I am not going to do that! But of course there are many examples. Read the verdicts! That's the way it works.'
Borgström was right about one thing: most of grounds for the verdicts in the Quick cases were convincing. As there was no forensic evidence in any of the cases, the supportive 'evidence' was the information Quick supplied. Yet after seven months of reviewing the cases and tracking Quick's stories, I'd found the so called 'evidence' in most of the cases was completely false.
For example: Thomas Quick had mentioned during the investigation that Therese Johannesen had exema in her armpits. The district court insisted this detail as an 'extremely peculiar detail'.
I'd asked Sture Bergwall a few days before this interview how he'd been able to supply details about the victims, the crime scenes, and the murders, details which at times checked out.
'I've been thinking about that a lot these past years', he told me. 'If I were to admit I made up all those stories, how could I explain the actual details I got right?'
Bergwall remembers very little about the events 1993-2001.
'But still and all I think that if I gave them one hundred tidbits, ninety eight were incorrect and two were right. I gave them so much information so of course I got it right from time to time.'
Claes Borgström could rest comfortably on six unanimous verdicts that Sture Bergwall was guilty of murdering eight people. If Quick had been wrong ninety eight or ninety nine times of a hundred, that didn't change the fact that the verdicts were in.
'The chancellor for justice says the verdicts are very well written', Borgström said modestly. 'They show in detail how the courts reasoned, how they arrived at a verdict of guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. Of course my opinion is irrelevant - this is the judgement of the court.'
'But in some cases the reasoning for the verdicts doesn't match the actual circumstances', I pointed out. 'Those verdicts don't give a true picture of what the evidence was.'
'Maybe you've made errors in judgement yourself as you claim others have done?'
'But this claim is based on facts that are easily corroborated.'
'No!' Borgström protested. 'They aren't easily corroborated! You're talking about material that's so extensive that it's too easy to pull out the parts that support your theory!'
We'd been sitting there for over an hour now. We got nowhere at all. Borgström seemed to think I was paddling up the creek, although he had to admit I was learned in the matter.
But I'd saved the best for last when the interview was almost at an end. So I tried to collect myself, calm down my breathing and my voice, and I said to him:
'Your former client Thomas Quick has now withdrawn all of his confessions and claims to be completely innocent.'
'Yeah... OK... Maybe he did that', said a very confused Borgström. Borgström was trying to grasp what this sudden twist actually meant, tried to get a quick overview of the probable consequences, tried to quickly arrive at a new strategy for the remainder of the interview. He'd spoken to Sture Bergwall only a few minutes before the interview - he couldn't wrap his mind around that either. Borgström squinted at me from behind his fringe and asked:
'So that's his position today? That he's innocent?'
I told him that was indeed the case. Now Borgström started thinking intensely, and after a while I saw a hint of a smile coming out and saw in his eyes that his old fighting spirit had returned.
'Well I wouldn't be too sure that's his opinion now if I were you!'
'But I am sure of it.'
An unbelievable swath on Borgström's face.
'Did you speak with him today?' he asked anxiously.
'Yes I did.'
'Now he's really clutching at straws!' I thought to myself.
'I'm not going to tell you', I replied. 'It's irrelevant. But I know that is Sture's current position.'
'So typical!' said a very disappointed Borgström. 'You're not bound by confidentiality?'
And the interview segued into chitchat. Probably because neither of us could keep it up any longer. I told him about Quick's medications and the real cause of his 'time out' seven years earlier.
Just as with Christer van der Kwast the day before, Borgström vacillated between great humility when considering Quick could be innocent and a staunch defence of the judicial process he'd been a part of.
'No matter the position of Thomas Quick in the future, neither you nor anyone else will be able to tell us what really happened. So it's the verdicts of the courts we have - and they stand fast.'
And he was right about that.
'So you feel OK about your part in the Thomas Quick case?' I asked.
'I've not been a part to an innocent person being found guilty', Borgström replied.
'That's quite the sweeping statement', I said.
'OK. I'll add one word: I've not consciously been a part to an innocent person being found guilty.'
Borgström thought I should spend more time trying to figure out why Quick did what he did. I told him it was precisely what I'd been doing the past seven months.
Borgström doubted I'd done that, but he wanted to wind up by giving me a clue.
'Quick came to the Säter hospital in 1991', he said. 'He was convicted of aggravated robbery. Now it's 2008 and he'll never be released, even if he gets his cases reopened again.'
'Isn't that something outside your field of expertise?'
'Yes - but I can still voice my opinion!'
'When's the last time you met with Sture?'
'Oh that's ages ago.'
'And yet you're still prepared to mete out a life sentence without parole to your former client', I thought.
We were suddenly quiet. I didn't get the answers I'd come for and Claes Borgström obviously regretted having agreed to the interview. The climate in the law offices of Borgström & Bodström was decidedly chilly when I left.
Claes Borgström continues to be the great mystery in the Thomas Quick scandal: he's too intelligent to have not seen the fraud being perpetrated all those years and he's too honest to have consciously been a part of the biggest judicial scandal in our country's history.
So who is he, this Claes Borgström? And what's going on under that adolescent shock of hair?
Wikipedia SV: Thomas Quick
Wikipedia EN: Thomas Quick
SVT Dokument inifrån: Thomas Quick del 1
SVT Dokument inifrån: Thomas Quick del 2
Red Hat Diaries: Borgström & Quick
Red Hat Diaries: Julian Assange & Claes Borgström
Industry Watch: Claes Borgström - Defence Attorney?
The Technological: How to Earn a Cool Half Million
The Technological: Borgström: 'I Know Things Too!!1!'