Russian court orders retrial for 4 acquitted in slaying of Chechens
Lower judge may have influenced jury, ruling states
MOSCOW -- Russia's Supreme Court overturned yesterday the acquittal of four members of an elite military intelligence unit charged with killing six civilians in Chechnya and ordered a retrial, officials said.
The new trial will be held in a military court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Supreme Court spokesman Pavel Odintsov said.
Chechnya's Kremlin-backed President Alu Alkhanov said the overturning of the acquittal should help to reassure the population about the fairness of the law.
''Our citizens at last can see that the law in Russia applies equally to all, whether a serviceman or a civilian and irrespective of nationality," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Two acquittals in the case had prompted protest rallies in Chechnya and criticism from the region's Moscow-backed Chechen leaders.
In May, a jury acquitted Captain Eduard Ulman and three subordinates of murder charges in a retrial also ordered by the Supreme Court following an initial acquittal.
But the May verdict was declared invalid because of procedural violations, yesterday's court ruling said.
In a portion of the session televised on NTV, Supreme Court Judge Aleksander Koronets said the lower court judge may have influenced the jury by saying ''do not judge lest you be judged" and using a Russian proverb with a similar meaning in his opening remarks.
NTV said the lower court judge also used the phrase ''the bony hand of justice," in a possible derogatory reference to a prosecutor. It said the Supreme Court was concerned that no Chechens were on the jury and that not all prosecution witnesses were able to testify.
The defendants, accused of killing six civilians who were riding in a truck that passed their position in 2002, claimed they were acting on superiors' orders.
''The guilty must be punished, wherever and whoever they are," a relative of one of the victims, Koka Tuburova, said yesterday in televised remarks.
A lawyer for the victims' families, Lyudmila Tikhomirova, said they hoped the new trial would deliver a guilty verdict.
But defense attorney Natalya Belyayeva insisted the servicemen were innocent.
''They had no mercenary or personal motivation" and were only following orders, she said on NTV.
Russia has seen only one other high-profile trial of servicemen accused of killing civilians in the two separatist wars that have wracked Chechnya since 1994.
Human rights groups say Russian soldiers and Chechen security forces frequently act with brutal impunity, including killing, abducting, and intimidating civilians in Chechnya.