After five months of court proceedings that Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhadzhiyev, dubbed a "witch hunt" and a travesty of justice
, a Moscow court has found the ethnic Chechen Yusup Temerkhanov guilty of the murder of former Russian Army Colonel Yury Budanov -- even though two eyewitnesses say Temerkhanov was not the killer and he had no obvious motive.
The presiding judge then sentenced Temerkhanov on May 7
to 15 years in prison. The prosecution had asked for
a 16-year sentence.
Investigators established that Budanov was shot dead on a busy Moscow street on June 10, 2011 by a lone gunman who escaped in a silver Mitsubishi Lancer with false papers and license plates that was later found abandoned. Budanov had gained notoriety during the 1999-2000 Chechen war for the cold-blooded rape and murder of Elza Kungayeva, a young Chechen woman he claimed he believed was a sniper. He went on trial for that killing in 2002 but was acquitted
Following a repeat trial, Budanov was sentenced
in July 2003 to 10 years in prison but released on parole in early 2009 after serving only half his sentence and seeing the charges against him annulled. Those rulings triggered a storm of protest
in Chechnya. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov pronounced Budanov an enemy of the Chechen people
and argued that his sentence should have been harsher
, while human rights ombudsman Nukhadzhiyev wrote to Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin denouncing as without legal foundation
the decision to annul the charges against Budanov.
Meanwhile, Stanislav Markelov, a lawyer who appealed Budanov’s release on behalf of Kungayeva’s family, was shot dead in Moscow
in January 2009.
The circumstances of Temerkhanov’s arrest are disputed. The authorities say he was arrested on August 26, 2011. Temerkhanov, however, claimed in a seven-page written deposition that he was abducted in Moscow one week earlier by masked men who claimed to work for military intelligence and who said they had information that he had been asked to kill Budanov by then-Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Magomed Daudov. Temerkhanov said the men also asked him
if he knew whether Chechen Republic head Kadyrov was involved in Budanov’s murder.
Temerkhanov claimed that when he denied any personal acquaintance with the two top Chechen officials he was subjected to torture. His abductors drove him back to Moscow a week later and left him handcuffed to a tree in a park. He was formally arrested shortly afterward.
The murder investigation lasted almost a year. It established that Budanov had been under scrutiny in the days before his death and that his car had been shadowed by a silver Mitsubishi Lancer in which, according to eyewitnesses, the man who shot him escaped. An identical car was later found abandoned, an attempt to set fire to it, possibly in order to destroy evidence, having failed.
In the car, police reportedly found the gun the killer had used together with a pair of gloves and sunglasses with traces of Temerkhanov’s DNA and a magazine with his partial palm print on it. They also are said to have found groceries and a copy of the daily "Kommersant." A witness for the prosecution identified Temerkhanov
as the man who purchased them just hours before the murder.
That latter witness was one of three whose identities were never made public and on whose testimony the formal indictment was largely based. Requests by Temerkhanov’s Chechen lawyer, Murad Musayev, for copies of the protocols of the questioning of those witnesses were refused
Defense Evidence Rejected
Two unidentified eyewitnesses identified Temerkhanov in court as the killer; his former wife identified him as the man seen on closed-circuit television three days prior to the murder purchasing a blue sweatshirt emblazoned "Fire and Ice" identical to the one the eyewitnesses for the prosecution said the killer wore. A similar sweatshirt was found during a search of Temerkhanov’s Moscow apartment in August 2011. Temerkhanov denied it was his, and his lawyer claimed it had been planted there
Two other eyewitnesses, however, testified that the killer was shorter than Temerkhanov and had auburn hair. Temerkhanov’s hair is black. According to Temerkhanov’s lawyers, both those men were apprehended by security personnel in February and threatened in an attempt to coerce them to retract their testimony; one was ordered to say Musayev offered him 15,000 rubles
($482) to exonerate Temerkhanov. Chechen human rights ombudsman Nukhadzhiyev publicly deplored
those "repressive measures" against witnesses for the defense.
In mid-February, two members of the jury excused themselves from further service, whereupon the presiding judge dissolved the jury, selected 12 new jurors, and began the proceedings again from scratch. Musayev unsuccessfully protested that decision.
Temerkhanov said in court that he was not in Moscow on the day of Budanov’s murder but out of town undergoing treatment with a chiropractor for his back. The therapist in question testified that he had indeed treated
Temerkhanov on the day of the murder. The prosecution, however, produced evidence that Temerkhanov visited a Moscow fitness club
on June 10.
A further item of circumstantial evidence was that Dzhamal Paragulgov, an Ingush acquaintance of Temerkhanov’s, asked one of his contacts
, who testified for the prosecution, for help in securing false papers and registration plates for a stolen Mitsubishi Lancer identical to the one in which the killer made his escape.
But Aleksandr Yevtukhov, one of the two eyewitnesses who said the murderer was definitely not Temerkhanov but a shorter man, also said that the Mitsubishi Lancer in which the murderer fled the scene was not the car later found abandoned.
Defense lawyer Musayev has outlined the possibility
that "Dzhamal" was the real killer but that by the time investigators realized that, Dzhamal had already left Russia, and so they decided to make Temerkhanov the scapegoat. What motive Dzhamal may have had, or whether he was hired to carry out the killing and if so by whom, is unclear.
Investigators inferred that Temerkhanov’s motive for shooting Budanov was hatred of the Russian military en masse, given that drunken Russian troops arbitrarily killed Temerkhanov’s father
in February 2000 in his native village of Geldagen. Temerkhanov’s paternal uncle, however, testified in court
that Temerkhanov did not feel any enmity toward the Russian armed forces for that killing.
Indeed, if Temerkhanov had, as the prosecution argued, conceived in the early 2000s the plan of killing at random a symbolic Russian serviceman to avenge his father’s death, why should he have waited eight years to do so?
The prosecution construed Temerkhanov’s decision legally to change his name to Magomed Suleimanov as part of his imputed extensive preparations for the murder. (That was the name by which he was initially identified at the time of his arrest.) Temerkhanov explained in court
, however, that he did so in order to make it impossible for a senior Chechen official with whom he was embroiled in a personal conflict to track him down.
For the same reason, Temerkhanov said, in early 2004 -- when Budanov was still serving the first year of his 10-year sentence for Kungayeva’s murder -- he concluded a fictitious marriage
to a Russian woman in order to secure a residence permit for the capital.
The jury rejected
the imputed murder motive of revenge, whereupon the prosecution formally asked the judge
to alter the first charge against Temerkhanov from "revenge killing" to "murder." Musayev adduced the formal absence of a proven motive as grounds for demanding a retrial
. He also said he planned to appeal.
Three of the 12 jury members
also found Temerkhanov not guilty.
The 15 years in prison that Temerkhanov received at his sentencing is considerably longer than the term handed down to Budanov for killing Kungayeva.