Roger writing the LAWmag

Hockey Murder

Ladislav Scurko on FacebookHockey got an unwelcome jolt from the law when 6'1" Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ladislav Scurko confessed to murder of a hockey referee.

Scurko, a left shooting centre with the Seattle Thunderbirds from 2004 to 2006, finished off his junior career with the Tri-City Americans, both teams of the Western Junior Hockey League. In his season with Tri-City, his goalie was Carey Price, now of the Montreal Canadiens.

Scurko played for Slovakia in the 2005 World Junior Championships held in Vancouver, Canada where he scored against Team Czech in a 5-3 loss (see picture below).

Scurko hurt his knee and did not finish the 06-07 season but instead, left the team to return to Slovakia. He was liked by his teammates, prone to Ovechkin-like over-the-top celebrations when he scored.

Since, in two seasons in the Slovak professional ice hockey leagues, Scurko had 14 goals and 11 assists in 101 games; journeyman stats for the 6th round draft pick in the 2004 National Hockey League draft.

Dead Referee

The body of hockey referee Marek Liptaj was only found in December of 2008, and had signs of 14 knife wounds in the neck and spine.

DNA showed the body was that of the missing referee and further forensic work linked the murder to a January 2008 meeting between Scurko and Liptaj at a remote gas station. The body was ultimately found in a shallow grave about 300 yards from a busy highway near Huncovce Kezmarok, not far from Kosice, where Scurko played hockey for Kosice HC.

Even while harbouring this secret, Scurko managed to play hockey and even sip champagne from the coveted Slovakian championship trophy with Kosice HC, the Corgon Cup. His Facebook friend list lists a number of past teammates such as junior shut-out king, goalie Bryan Bridges.

Liptaj had not been seen or heard from after that meeting with Scurko. It was later discovered that his body had been dragged and buried in a shallow grave some thousand feet from the busy highway.

Motive?

Ladislav Scurko scoring against Czechs on 30 DEC 2005On April 23, Scurko was arrested in Presov, Slovakia and confronted with the results of the investigation.

According to Slovakian police, he confessed to the crime which the Slovakian authorities believe was related to a debt.

One Slovakian sports website, sports.cas.sk, refers to an as yet "unconfirmed" possibility of a homosexual relationship between Scurko and his victim, even though Scurko was known to have girlfriends.

Canada's Globe and Mail speculated:

"Liptaj owed Scurko money. Several sources requesting anonymity suggested Scurko had a problem, a gambling problem, and was indebted to the wrong people. He may have been compromised by organized crime, perhaps forced to collect money from Liptaj. He may have made side bets with the referee and was anxious for payback."

Hockey Hurts

The National Hockey League has rarely, if ever, been saddened by any such violent crime even as the "coolest game" goes on.

The National Football League has a long list of violent crime felons including O. J. Simpson, Rae Carruth (Carolina Panthers) and Hubert Thompson, the latter having thrown a 66-year old off a balcony to his death.

The National Basketball Association hall of shame includes Richie Adams and Kirk Snyder and Major League Baseball, Ugueth Urbina (Florida Marlins).

But hockey, arguably the most violent of team sports, has a relatively clean slate. The closet professional hockey has come in recent years to a heinous crime is one ultimately averted - the July 2004 conviction of Mike Danton for hiring a hit-man to kill his suspected homosexual lover, hockey agent David Frost (the hit-man was an undercover cop).

As the horror of the death of a referee at the hand of a player sinks in, the rare and sudden splash of criminal law hurts a great game, in the midst of its playoffs and world championships.

It may have occurred far overseas in a remote land of only 5-million, but Slovakia is a full member of the small family of ice hockey nations, having produced Stan Makita of the Chicago Blackhawks and the three Stasny brothers of Quebec Nordiques fame.

While he played in North America and Slovakia, Ladislav Scurko touched the lives of many in the hockey family.

Now, as players and fans alike process his heinous crime in the arenas, locker rooms and Facebook chats, Scurko will feel the omnipresence of law and justice.

Once playing to the cheering throngs of thousands, he will stand alone, handcuffed and empty before a Slovakian criminal court on the precipice of anonymity and disgrace, to receive a 20-year sentence, a penalty from society's ultimate referee.

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Posted in Crime and Criminal Law, Hockey Law
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