Five days after confessing to killing his British wife, the Greek pilot Babis Anagnostopoulos, who now faces life in prison, attempted to convince justice officials that the crime was neither planned nor premeditated.
Appearing before a magistrate on Tuesday in a case that has gripped Greece, the 33-year-old attributed the killing of Caroline Crouch to a fit of rage allegedly induced by a fierce row. He had initially claimed the couple were victims of an armed robbery.
“I am sorry,” he was quoted as saying in extracts of his testimony cited by the Greek media.
Crouch was suffocated in what a coroner’s report described as “an agonising death” for the 20-year-old in the couple’s suburban Athens home in the early hours of 11 May.
“Asphyxiation took five to six minutes,” the report noted, adding that the young Briton “who was asleep at the time” had bloodshot eyes and showed signs of widespread bruising.
Anagnostopoulos, who was questioned by a Greek prosecutor after giving more than four hours of testimony, has blamed the killing on judgment he claims was “blurred” after he was “verbally and physically” attacked by his wife.
When police were called to the two-storey maisonette they discovered the couple’s 11-month-old daughter, Lydia, lying next to her dead mother. The family’s dog, Roxy, was also found hanged from a banister after being choked to death with its own lead in an attempt to make the crime scene appear “more convincing”, according to an initial deposition given by the pilot.
Tuesday’s testimony followed dramatic scenes outside the court complex as a handcuffed Anagnostopoulos was hurried into the building in a bulletproof vest by police from Greece’s anti-terrorist squad to chants of abuse from onlookers.
“Rot in prison, you monster,” one man screamed.
Showing no sign of emotion, the pilot walked purposefully towards the court building’s entrance, momentarily turning his head only at the cries of protest from demonstrators, including feminist groups.
The unprecedented show of force underscored the passions around the killing. In a rare step the Greek government had announced a €300,000 reward for information that might lead to the culprits.
For more than five weeks the flight instructor had maintained the crime was the result of a robbery, in which he and Crouch had been tied up and gagged, until he admitted he had fabricated the story to conceal the killing.
Anagnostopoulos was apprehended by police as he attended a memorial in honour of his wife on Alonissos, where she spent most of her childhood. Crouch’s father, David, an oil and gas executive, moved the family from Athens to the island at the eastern end of the Sporades when she was young.
Detectives extracted the confession after presenting the helicopter pilot with new evidence that included data from his wife’s smartwatch and a fitness app on his mobile phone. The new findings conflicted with the timeline of events repeatedly given to investigators by Anagnostopoulos, who had claimed a gang of “Albanian and Georgian” thieves had broken into the house, lured by the prospect of finding money and jewellery.
Greek media, citing his legal team, reported that Anagnostopoulos’s defense on Tuesday would be focused on convincing the magistrate that the crime was neither “planned nor pre-meditated”.
“There was no motive. It was not pre-planned,” the Protothema newspaper quoted his attorney, Alexandros Papaioannou, as saying. “Caroline was not asleep [at the time of the murder]. What we are hearing we do not accept,” he reportedly said, explaining that in the preliminary testimony his client had given after being formally charged last week there were divergences from the coroner’s report. “There is evidence we will add … that will enrich the facts.”
To back up his case, the aviator reportedly appealed to the investigating magistrate for relatives and friends to be allowed to testify to the state of the couple’s relationship and requested that a security camera in the couple’s home be examined to prove that its memory card was destroyed before the murder.
But later on Tuesday court sources were quoted as saying that the violent manner in which the puppy was killed undermined the pilot’s argument that the crime was unpremeditated.
Before Anagnostopoulos arrived at the court, his other lawyer, Vassilis Spyrou, had resigned, telling reporters: “I do not desire to have anything more to do with the defense of this case … for personal reasons.”
Greece’s state-run TV channel ERT reported that Crouch’s mother, Susan, was “too distressed” to make the journey to Athens from Alonissos. Her father has long suffered from mobility problems.
Thanassis Hamanis, a lawyer representing the Crouch family, did appear in court saying his clients would apply for custody of Lydia.
“You can understand the position of the mother who at some point became conscious of the fact that at her daughter’s second funeral [her memorial last week] she was embraced by the same hands that cut off her child’s very breath,” he said, referring to the moment the pilot had hugged his mother-in-law at the service before he was led away by police.
“You can understand how painful and how tragic it is for a mother.”
Hamanis said the desire was for the child to be brought up in Alonissos by her maternal grandparents but he added that Caroline’s parents also had “excellent relations” with the pilot’s own parents and were in discussion with them. “They have mutual respect and esteem for each other,” he told reporters.
Late on Tuesday, court officials ordered that Anagnostopoulos be detained in Greece’s high-security Korydallos jail pending trial later this year.