Slow progress in Lithuanian model murder case

The murder of Dovilė Didžiūnaitytė in 2017 has not yet been resolved -- traces of sedatives were found in her body, the family is frustrated over the slow investigation, the suspect is still at large and rumors of a cover-up continue.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Slow progress in Lithuanian model murder case - NewsMavens
Dovilė Didžiūnaitytė, YouTube

Why this story matters:

Who reports on crimes in celebrity news sections? And how often is an alleged murder case illustrated with multiple shots of the victim's face, lips sensually parted? Or her body in a bikini? Perhaps when the victim happens to be promising model.

Dovilė Didžiūnaitytė's body has been destroyed by drugs, alleged sexual abuse, and a fall from a high-rise building, but alluring images of her still illustrate reports of her death.

And celebrity reporters on Lithuania's leading news websites are having a field day writing about her life and the ongoing criminal investigation.

The leading news website, Delfi, has chosen to highlight the suspect's Facebook posts (in its celebrity section, of course), and publish an in-depth profile of the medical doctor implicated in the case (see below) as well as an extensive interview with the model's agent, who claims that fashion show afterparties in Lithuania are a hot bed of drugs and abuse. The website added the contact helpline information for for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence after each article on the case -- this is good practice in reporting on these types of crimes. 15min, meanwhile, has published more frequent updates and more extensive comments from the prosecutor.

This case is a chance to look into how crimes like this are being reported. Newsrooms are about sharing and cooperation, and this is exactly a case where celebrity and crime reporters should sit down together and cooperate. Celebrity reporters may not have the right experience to ask questions regarding crime scene investigation. Crime reporters may lack context of glamour afterparties.

As the victim's family and agent claim, this is far from an isolated story about an unlucky model.

Rich men target young fashion models, who typically start their career while still underage, and, according to the interviewed agent, get exclusive access to meet models behind the scenes.

Little is known about the power and influence of these men, and this creates a fertile ground for hearsay, which does not help the investigation.

What is known so far

  • Internationally acclaimed Lithuanian model Dovilė Didžiūnaitytė died on November 20, 2017 in the city of Klaipėda. She fell from the 14th-floor balcony of the Amberton Klaipėda hotel.
  • Producer Ričardas Pinikas was with her when it happened. CCTV footage showed that he had been on the balcony with her. The railing of the balcony is too high for someone to fall over by accident.
  • The investigation has already generated 2,200 documents from various sources.
  • According to lab reports, Didžiūnaitytė was drugged with γ-Butyrolactone, a recreational intoxicant. It has a sedative effect, and its overdose can lead to severe sickness and coma, particularly if mixed with alcohol.
  • Butyrates are popular among youths and extracted from solvents and anesthetics.
  • Prosecutors refuted circulating claims that the DNA of six persons was found on the body. However, it was confirmed that Dr Aivaras Miltenis, who works at a hospital in Kretinga, spent the night at the hotel with the model, and his DNA was found in her body. The prosecution is currently treating Miltenis as a witness, because, although both Pinikas and Miltenis accuse each other of bringing in the drugs, there is no evidence Miltenis had anything to do with supplying drugs to the model, and there is no evidence of physical violence to accuse him of rape. The model's family suspect that Pinikas drugged Didžiūnaitytė and invited other men to take advantage of her state. According to a prosecutor working on the case, Miltenis's status can change only once the effect of the drugs is clearly established (that is, whether the drugs led to a vulnerable state). Pinikas claims that he invited Miltenis to help Didžiūnaitytė sober up and left the two of them in his hotel room.
  • Pinikas is free during the pre-trial, and prosecutors say that it is justifiable because he is compling with the investigation. Pinikas's lawyer is a sister-in-law of the city prosecutor.
  • The lawyer representing the model's family says that the crime scene investigation was improper, as the death was initially treated as an accident. An analysis of microparticles on clothes and in the hotel room had not been carried out in time, he said.
  • A "tabloid type" daily carried out its own investigation and found other models who remember seeing the drug dripped into cocktails at parties. After one party, which Didžiūnaitytė attended with a friend, Pinikas insisted on bringing the friend home and took Didžiūnaitytė to Klaipėda. According to a bartender at one cafe, the two were seen eating together for several days, and were seen in nightclubs accompanied by other people. Didžiūnaitytė later texted her friend that Pinikas was acting strange, but by the time friends organized a lift for her back to Vilnius, she had stopped responding to messages. Allegations are rife that the influential producer was pimping drugged models to men in his circle.
  • Another model opened up about an attempt to drug her at a party, suggesting that it is far from an isolated case that powerful men take advantage of young models using drugs. Didžiūnaitytė's agent in Italy claimed that she once admitted having used drugs as a teenager, but as a model, she followed a strict regime and he had only seen her in a strange state after an earlier visit in Lithuania. Her childhood friend denies the possibility that Didžiūnaitytė had tried drugs as a minor.
  • In September, the victim's grave was vandalized.
  • The latest news is that the prosecutors ordered a post-mortem psychological-psychiatric assessment of the victim. This method is mainly used in questionable cases of suicide and involves analysis of the victim's mental health data, interviews with family and witnesses on the victim's psychological state, and expert assessment. Should the assessment find that the model was suicidal, the charges against Pinikas would be only assisting/abetting suicide.

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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