Harrogate man jailed for life following brutal murder of his friend

A Harrogate man has been jailed for life for the brutal murder of his friend after a 24-hour booze binge led to a drunken argument.
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Vitalijus Koreiva, 37, kicked, punched and stamped on 41-year-old father Gracijus Balciauskas at a flat in Harrogate during a “prolonged”, merciless attack, Leeds Crown Court heard.

Koreiva, a Lithuanian national, and his friend Jaroslaw Rutowicz, 39, who was jailed for 12 years for manslaughter, then wrapped the body in a rug and discussed ways of disposing of the body.

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Today (September 22) the two men appeared for sentence when the court heard harrowing details of the horrific murder in the early hours of December 20 last year.

Vitalijus Koreiva (left) and Jaroslaw Rutowicz (right) have been jailed following the death of a man in HarrogateVitalijus Koreiva (left) and Jaroslaw Rutowicz (right) have been jailed following the death of a man in Harrogate
Vitalijus Koreiva (left) and Jaroslaw Rutowicz (right) have been jailed following the death of a man in Harrogate

It occurred in Koreiva’s bedsit in the notorious Mayfield Grove area of Harrogate where Rutowicz filmed a bloodied and visibly unwell Mr Balciauskas as he was subjected to a terrible beating at the hands of Koreiva.

Prosecutor Katherine Robinson said all three men were friends and regular drinking partners.

On December 17, Mr Balciauskas, also from Lithuania, went to Koreiva’s bedsit for a drinking session where his body was found three days later.

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The session lasted “more than 24 hours”, but it was “unknown what started the initial assault, nor does there appear to be any specific motive”.

“From the evidence of the defendants, it seems at best it was a drunken argument,” said Ms Robinson.

“From the videos made by Mr Rutowicz on his mobile phone, it’s evident that the deceased was subjected to a prolonged assault by Koreiva using both his fists and his feet.

This assault continued when Mr Balciauskas was on the floor, when he was clearly seriously unwell and when he was unable to defend himself.”

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Rutowicz continued to film the assault when the blood-soaked victim was barely conscious and covered in bruises.

The attack happened in the early hours of December 20 and by about midday, Mr Balciauskas was “almost certainly dead”.

The prosecution said that nearly 18 hours had elapsed without either man calling an ambulance as Mr Balciauskas was lying bloodied and dazed on the floor.

Ms Robinson added: “The body was wrapped in a rug which was brought from (Rutowicz’s) flat downstairs and several hours passed, with Rutowicz leaving the house on occasions and purchasing more alcohol.”

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Rutowicz, a Polish national, ultimately went to the Asda store on nearby Bower Road where he told people that a “man had died” and called police.

When officers turned up at the flat, they found Koreiva asleep on a sofa “with a body wrapped in a rug” next to him.

A pathologist’s report concluded that the cause of death was “multiple” injuries to the torso, including a rib fracture and ruptured spleen, which caused internal bleeding.

Death would not have been instantaneous.

Ms Robinson said that 90 minutes had elapsed between the first video at about 6am when Mr Balciauskas was lying on the floor “clearly injured” and the fourth and final video, at about 7.20am, when he was “considerably more unwell”.

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At about 10am, Rutowicz went to the Polish shop next door to buy more whiskey and cigarettes, by which time Mr Balciauskas “may well have been dead”.

Rutowicz left the flat three more times to buy alcohol.

On two of those occasions, he used Mr Balciauskas’s bank card to make the purchases.

At about 6pm, Rutowicz sent a message to his mother in Poland, which he later deleted, but it was “obvious” he had admitted involvement in Mr Balciauskas’s killing because his mother’s response was: “He (Mr Balciauskas) to heaven but you to hell and later to prison.”

According to the pathological report, if the two men had sought help, the “probability” was that Mr Balciauskas would have survived.

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Mr Balciauskas’s daughter, Luka Marija Balciauskaite, said that she and her family had suffered “deep trauma” and it was hard to accept the “horrific, cruel manner” of her father’s death.

John Harrison KC, for Rutowicz, said his client was “unable to explain his motivation” for the terrible incident, albeit his role was in “encouraging and assisting” Koreiva who carried out the sickening assault.

Simon Kealey KC, for Koreiva, said his client was suffering from a mental disorder due to his alcohol dependency, or “alcohol-abuse disorder”.

Koreiva had claimed diminished responsibility on the grounds of his “illness”, but in July a jury rejected this, finding him guilty of murder rather than manslaughter, which he admitted.

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Rutowicz was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter following the three-week trial.

During the trial, Koreiva and Rutowicz blamed each other for what the judge described as “increasingly outlandish suggestions about how to dispose of the body”.

The court heard that Koreiva, Rutowicz and Mr Balciauskas had all worked as labourers in the UK and became friends through work, regularly meeting up for drinks.

Rutowicz, who moved to Harrogate in 2019 and worked as a bricklayer and farm labourer, claimed that tensions flared after Koreiva shaved off some of Mr Balciauskas’s hair as a practical joke while he was sleeping.

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Koreiva then allegedly flew into a rage during a chess game with Mr Balciauskas and punched him about four times to the face.

Rutowicz said: “He started to beat him with his fist and with the heel of his foot.”

The court heard about Koreiva’s chequered life, blighted by alcohol abuse, from his early days in Lithuania to his time in Germany in his 20s when was jailed for three-and-a-half-years for supplying Class A drugs.

He served part of that sentence before being deported back to Lithuania.

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He then moved to Northern Ireland in 2010 where he struck up a relationship with a woman in Ireland and they had a child together, but then split up and Koreiva moved to Harrogate in 2017 where he found work at Pizza Hut but lost a series of jobs because of his rampant alcohol abuse and the loss of his motoring licence following a drink-drive conviction.

He had lately been working at the Morrison’s factory in Flaxby as a forklift-truck driver.

Judge Rodney Jameson KC jailed Koreiva for life and ordered that he serve a minimum 13 years and 90 days behind bars.

However, he said Koreiva would not be released until the Parole Board deemed it “safe to do so”.

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He told Rutowicz that his was not a minor role in Mr Balciauskas’s death and that instead of stopping the violence he had “encouraged” it.

He said Rutowicz, unlike Koreiva, had shown no remorse.

Rutowicz was jailed for 12 years and ordered to serve two-thirds of that sentence behind bars.