ATHENS — A Greek court on Friday rejected an effort to toughen the punishment for a group of men convicted in the beating death of an American on a holiday island in 2017, upholding the original convictions of six men for grievous assault and spurning a call to find them guilty of murder.
Prosecutors had sought the retrial after the initial verdict for the killing of the American, Bakari Henderson, a Black 22-year-old college graduate from Texas, arguing that the sentences were too lenient. A lawyer for his family called the decision from the court, in the western city of Patras, “a sad day for Greek justice.”
The decision means that the sentences were unchanged for five of the men, who were already free after completing their sentences for the assault convictions. The sixth man, who had received a longer punishment, will be released in the coming days after the court reduced his term.
Jill Henderson, Mr. Henderson’s mother, said that the family was “extremely disheartened” with the verdict. “Unfortunately, it appears that the majority sympathized with the defendants as opposed to our son, a Black American,” she said, adding that the family would take the case to Greece’s Supreme Court.
Mr. Henderson was killed during the summer of 2017 on the island of Zakynthos. The assault made international headlines because of its brutality and claims by witnesses that it may have been racially motivated.
His relatives, who have traveled to Greece several times for the two trials, said the initial convictions were not commensurate with the brutality of the attack. They said they wanted to see Mr. Henderson’s attackers receive the maximum penalty for murder, a life sentence. Under Greek law, that would mean 20 years in prison.
Nine men who were initially implicated in the attack went on trial for murder in 2018. Six of the defendants were convicted, but of a lesser charge — grievous assault — and three were cleared. After that trial, a Greek prosecutor, Giorgos Bisbikis, persuaded judges to retry the six convicted defendants on the original murder charges.
The concept of double jeopardy applies in Greek law only when a verdict is final. Because the original decision was appealed by a prosecutor and therefore not final, the retrial was possible. It began in February.
The retrial ended on Friday when a mixed appeals court of three judges and four jurors narrowly upheld the original convictions, 4 to 3, with two of the judges, including the president of the court, supporting the prosecutor’s proposal for murder convictions.
“Bakari Henderson came to our country as a tourist,” the family’s lawyer, Christos Kaklamanis, said after sentencing on Friday.
“For the second time, our system of justice betrayed him,” he said, adding that the decision “gives the message that other such acts of violence can be forgiven.”
Mr. Henderson had been traveling in Greece with friends and promoting the launch of a clothing line at the time of his death in July 2017, according to his parents, who were in Greece for the retrial.
The prosecution’s main challenge had been to convince the court that Mr. Henderson’s assailants had intended to kill him, but the defense argued that his death, though tragic, was accidental.
Video from security cameras in the resort town of Laganas showed a brutal assault. A crowd of men can be seen chasing Mr. Henderson down a street before hurling him against a car and laying into him with a hail of punches and kicks. At the time, a Greek police spokesman said that Mr. Henderson died within 30 seconds.
Of the six who were originally jailed, a Briton of Bosnian descent had received the longest sentence, 15 years. That sentence was reduced to eight years on Friday after the court found that he had shown good behavior following his conviction, and he will be released in a few days. Convicts usually serve about a third of the sentences meted out by courts, according to the Greek penal code and parole system.
The other five men, all Serbs, were given sentences of five to 10 years but were all free by the time of the retrial.
Testimony by witnesses suggested that the attack on Mr. Henderson might have been racially motivated. A bartender told Greek investigators that when she had posed for a photograph with Mr. Henderson, a man standing nearby commented: “There are a lot of Serbs in the bar. Why are you talking to a Black guy?” The woman said the bystander then punched Mr. Henderson, who responded by striking him over the head with a beer bottle, an exchange that was also captured on .
Violent fights are not unusual in Laganas, a resort favored by young tourists for its cheap alcohol and raucous nightlife. In recent years, the authorities on the island have tried to curb alcohol-fueled offenses while sustaining the foreign tourism that supports the local economy.