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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 00:02 GMT
At close quarters in hotel fall trial
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Hania

John Hogan
John Hogan, right, is accused of murder and attempted suicide

It was the first time in nearly 18 months that Natasha Hogan had clapped eyes on him. And all she could see was the back of his head.

The defendant, John Hogan, her former husband, could feel her breath on his neck as she gave evidence that could condemn him to a life sentence.

Mr Hogan is accused of murdering his six-year-old son Liam and attempting to murder his two-year-old daughter Mia after leaping 50ft from the fourth floor balcony of a holiday hotel in Ierapetra, Crete, in August 2006.

Still hobbling from the fall, and pudgy from more than a year on remand in jail, Mr Hogan twitched and glowered, all the while looking towards the three judges and four jurors. Not once did he turn to face his accuser-in-chief.

The juxtaposition of the dock and the witness box seemed designed to counter Cretan traditions of omerta and vendetta, where an intimidating glance from the accused could neutralize incriminating testimony.

In this most tragic of cases, all it did was to reinforce the imbalance and communication failure of a relationship that disintegrated with such catastrophic results.

Woman's scream

At first Natasha Hogan towered over the man who fathered her children. But as she described the moment the family vanished over the balcony, she collapsed sobbing.

After being given 15 minutes to compose herself, Mrs Hogan then delivered the rest of her evidence sitting down, directly into her ex-husband's ears.

I do know with his history of suicide that he should not have taken my children
Natasha Hogan

The holiday had been a "make or break" effort to resolve the differences in their marriage.

But after four days of constant rowing, John Hogan wanted to return to England.

The family went upstairs to pack and the adults even argued over the way in which the suitcases were stuffed.

Mrs Hogan said he fixed her with a "crazed look" and shouted at her.

She turned her back to reorganize the suitcases and in that moment her family vanished.

She knew there was only one place they could have gone. Over the balcony.

Her fears were confirmed by a scream from a woman on the ground who witnessed the fall.

'Family of death'

During cross-examination, the defence attorney, Dimitris Xiritakis, attempted to suggest that Mrs Hogan had provoked her husband.

She retorted that Mr Hogan's two brothers had committed suicide and that his family history contributed to his problems.

I did not plan it
John Hogan

Without turning round, the defendant erupted: "She called my family a family of death."

She responded: "He didn't mean to kill my children. But I do know with his history of suicide that he should not have taken my children."

John Hogan's state of mind is the key factor in this trial.

Professor Iannis Nestoros, a psychiatrist who examined Mr Hogan at Athens Korydallos prison, described him as psychotic.

Life imprisonment

Outside the court, Mr Nestoros explained: "Definitely it was John Hogan's body that jumped off the balcony. It was John Hogan's body that had his two kids with him. But I don't think he was mentally present. He was deranged."

Mr Hogan denied that he was guilty of premeditated murder.

"I did not plan it," he sobbed.

If found guilty of intentional murder, he faces life imprisonment. In reality, in Greece that means a maximum of 25 years.

But if the court determines that the balance of his mind was disturbed, he is looking at between five and 15 years in a secure psychiatric unit.

Under European prisoner transfer rules, he could apply to serve the bulk of any custodial sentence in the UK.

The case has been adjourned until Wednesday, and Mr Hogan will have the opportunity to address the court before a verdict is reached.

SEE ALSO
'Crazed look' before balcony fall
21 Jan 08 |  Bristol/Somerset
'Rows plagued' death-fall holiday
21 Jan 08 |  Bristol/Somerset
Jail term extended before trial
15 Aug 07 |  Bristol/Somerset



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