A former soldier has been sentenced to 23 years in prison in Slovakia for shooting and killing an investigative journalist and his fiancee.

The alleged contract killings of Jan Kuicak and his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová,  at Kuciak’s home outside Bratislava triggered mass protests, a political crisis and brought down the country’s government.

Kuciak worked for aktuality.sk, writing about corruption connected to Slovak politicians, EU subsidies, VAT fraud and Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia.

Miroslav Marcek, 37, was sentenced on Monday in Pezinok, a town 12 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Bratislava, over the February 2018 double homicide.

Marcek, who pleaded guilty to the murders in January, was not present at the sentencing hearing.

Presiding judge Ruzena Szabova told the court the gangland-style slayings at Kuciak’s home were merciless.

“It was cold-blooded and malicious. The victims did not have a chance to defend themselves,” the judge said, according to Reuters.

Judge Szabova added that Marcek’s confession had been a mitigating factor.

Prosecutor Juraj Novocky, who asked for a 25-year sentence, appealed against the sentence.

Kuciak was the first journalist ever murdered in Slovakia’s 25 years as an independent state, and huge public protests followed his killing.

Remarkably, those protests led to the resignations not only of Prime Minister Robert Fico and his entire Cabinet but of the police chief, too.

Kuciak also worked on stories related to ICIJ’s global collaborative investigations the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers.

He had reported on corruption and the links to influential political, legal and business figures, including property developer Marián Kočner.

Kočner is standing trial with two others in separate hearings on charges of paying for the murder.

The millionaire businessman’s cousin Tomas Szabo and third defendant Alena Zsuzsova are accused of being intermediaries in the case.

All three deny involvement in the murder.