The US Department of Justice will waive the death penalty the case of Craig Lang, an army veteran who fought with a far-right paramilitary unit in Ukraine and whom authorities have accused of killing a married couple in southwest Florida in April 2018.
The case is being closely monitored by US officials and experts studying far-right extremism, who have become increasingly concerned about Americans traveling to Ukraine to train with far-right militant groups. right and gain combat experience.
During a state hearing held Monday through Zoom in Fort Myers, Jesus Casas, a U.S. deputy attorney in the middle district of Florida, told the court that the government has decided to waive the death penalty in hopes of Accelerate Lang’s extradition from Kiev, where he currently resides under limited house arrest.
Ukraine is sensitive to the issue of the death penalty, which it abolished in 2000. Lang and his lawyers have implicated the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered the suspension of Lang’s extradition until he could review his case. An ECHR spokesman did not say when the review would end.
Casas said during Monday’s hearing that the U.S. government would still demand the death penalty against Lang’s co-conspirator, Alex Zwiefelhofer, a veteran comrade in the army who also fought alongside far-right extremists in the United States. eastern Ukraine and has been in U.S. custody since 2019.
Lang, 30 and 23, Zwiefelhofer is accused of using a fake person to lure Serafin “Danny” Lorenzo and Deana Lorenzo to a night meeting at a shopping complex in the city of Estero, where the couple was hoping to buy firearms to men and resell them for profit. Instead, Lang and Zwiefelhofer allegedly shot the Lorenzos dramatically attack, let them die and stole $ 3,000.
After killing the couple, the former soldiers planned to use the money to flee by yacht to South America, where they wanted to “participate in an armed conflict against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela” and kill “communists,” according to the allegations. authorities. However, the escape did not go according to plan and Zwiefelhofer was later captured in his home state of Wisconsin and transferred to Florida, where he awaits trial scheduled for December. Lang managed to return to Ukraine, but was eventually arrested by the Ukrainian authorities in August 2019, after returning from a short trip to Moldova. Border guards stopped him after seeing that an Interpol order had been issued for his arrest.
In a text message, Lang’s chief lawyer in Ukraine, Dmytro Morhun, declined to comment Monday on the new development.
A relative of the Lorenzos told BuzzFeed News on Monday that he was pleased with the development. In April, the relative, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said he did not want the death penalty for Lang; they just want him back in Florida to be tried. “We just want him to pay,” the relative said.
Bjorn Brunvand, Lang’s court-appointed Lang lawyer, told Judge Sheri Polster Chappell he had “investigated” Lang’s possible extradition, but said it is not yet known when, if ever, Lang will be under arrest. US custody.
Faced with uncertainty about Lang’s condition, Casas told Judge Chappell that the government is pursuing the Zwiefelhofer case in a different way.
Government lawyers Lang and Zwiefelhofer agreed that the pandemic had slowed their progress in gathering the things needed to prepare for trial. Zwiefelhofer’s lawyer, D. Todd Doss, said he needed more time to travel to meet with witnesses and gather documents for his client’s defense.
Lang and Zwiefelhofer first met in Ukraine, where in 2016 they joined the far-right group. Notorious for his neo-Nazi members and alleged human rights abuses, arose from an alliance of right-wing militant groups formed during the Euromaidan uprising in Ukraine in 2014. The right-wing sector was later re-established as a volunteer battalion after Russia annexed Crimea and provoked a war in the region. of Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.
Other Americans who fought in Ukraine he told BuzzFeed News in interviews that Lang and Zwiefelhofer grew more and more in their far-right opinions and behaviors during their time in the country.
The two men left Ukraine in 2017 after a relaxed fight and then tried their luck joining forces in South Sudan. They never succeeded and were arrested and deported back to the United States, where authorities claimed they would eventually regroup and plan their attack on the Lorenzos to fund more foreign fighting adventures.
Since then, Lang has been in a detention center or under some form of house arrest in Ukraine. She currently lives in Kiev with her fiancé and her toddler and has to wear an ankle monitor. He said at a court hearing he attended BuzzFeed News in February that he teaches English classes to Ukrainians online to support his family.
At the same court hearing, Lang stated that the U.S. government also wanted to prosecute him for alleged war crimes committed on the battlefields of Ukraine.
“Any separatist or Russian soldier he has killed would be charged with murder,” he told a Ukrainian court. “Understand that any soldier you may have captured would be a kidnapping charge.”