HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish court acquitted a 52-year-old Danish man on Wednesday of the murder and attempted murder of two German backpackers on a Finnish passenger ferry in 1987, after ruling a police claim that he had confessed was inadmissible.
The backpackers, Klaus Schelkle, 20, and Bettina Taxis, 22, were beaten with a sharp hammer while sleeping on the open-air deck of Viking Sally, a passenger ferry on its way from the Swedish capital Stockholm to Turku in Finland.
They were airlifted to hospital where Schelkle was pronounced dead. Taxis survived but has no memory of the attack, which took place in the early hours of July 28 in 1987.
The Danish man denied the charges.
"The prosecution has failed to prove the defendant to be the only person to have had the possibility and opportunity to commit the crimes," the three-judge district court said in a statement, noting the murder weapon was never found.
The prosecutors had sought life imprisonment for the Danish man, who court documents say was 18 at the time and travelling to a Mormon scout camp in Finland. He was among the first people helping the backpackers after the attack.
At the beginning of the hearings, the court had ruled police interviews from 2016 inadmissible due to the defendant not having a translator or a counsel present. The prosecutor had said the man had confessed to the crime during those interviews.
"The defendant has not confessed being guilty of the crimes in such a way that his guilt through this would be considered proven or even probable," the court judgment said.
The ship where the attack took place - the Viking Sally - was later sold to an Estonian shipping company and operated under the name Estonia. It sank in 1994 in a storm on the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto; editing by Philippa Fletcher)