Opening arguments began in Uppsala this week in the trial of a Norwegian-born Pentecostal minister accused on two counts of killing his wives

Nation riveted as Knutby preacher's trial begins

The Copenhagen Post/May 20, 2004

Media outlets in Sweden and Norway were riveted as opening arguments began on Tuesday in the sensational trial of Helge Fossmo, a Norwegian-born Pentecostal preacher, who stands accused of murdering his first wife and abetting in the murder of his second.

The second killing was actually committed by the Fossmo family's nanny, who was also Helge Fossmo's lover. Prosecutors say the nanny, 27-year-old Sara Svensson, was strongly under the sway of the 32-year-old Pentecostal preacher. Svensson has claimed in her own defence that she was brainwashed into being Fossmo's slave.

The nanny has also confessed to shooting Fossmo's neighbour, the husband of Helge Fossmo's former lover.

The scandal has shaken the sleepy Swedish village of Knutby, near Uppsala, where the murders were committed. All of Sweden has followed developments in the case with intense interest, and the lurid, sensational details have even been covered throughout Norway, as Helge Fossmo is Norwegian by birth.

As opening arguments began in an Uppsala courtroom this week, prosecutors began by asserting that preacher Helge Fossmo masterminded all of the murders. Prosecutors claim that Fossmo abused his position as spiritual leader of Knutby's isolated Pentecostal congregation, pursuing extramarital relationships within the community, and then resorting to murder to cover his tracks.

Fossmo's first wife, 26-year-old Helene, was found dead in the bathroom of the family's home in 1999. Authorities initially concluded that Helene Fossmo's death was accidental. Since that time, evidence has emerged, indicating that Helene had high levels of sedatives in her bloodstream at the time of her death, and suspicious signs of trauma to the head.

"Why did she have a toxic level of painkillers in her body, and if that was so, how was she even capable of moving herself to the bathtub?" prosecutor Elin Blank posited.

The prosecution then recounted the circumstances surrounding the death of Fossmo's second wife, 23-year-old Alexandra, whom Sara Svensson shot "on God's behalf" on 10 January of this year.

Prosecutors have presented as evidence several mobile phone text messages sent between Helge Fossmo and Sara Svensson on the night of the murder, which they say prove that Fossmo was largely in control of Svensson's actions. One of Fossmo's messages from 10 January stated that the outer door to the Fossmo home's laundry room was now unlocked: it was through this door that Sara Svensson gained entry to the family home, proceeded to the bedroom, and killed Alexandra Fossmo with three shots to the head as she slept. She then proceeded to the house next door and fatally shot 30-year-old Daniel Linde, the husband of Fossmo's former lover, in the head and chest when he opened the door.

For months, the Pentecostal Church in Knutby refused to allow Swedish authorities to investigate the case, staunchly defending Fossmo as an innocent man. The trial is expected to conclude on 10 June.

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