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Alibi confirmed of man whose arrest for a child’s murder triggered appalling anti-Roma riots

01.12.2020
Halya Coynash

A second forensic test has confirmed that Mykhailo Chebotar has an alibi for when he is accused of murdering an eight-year-old child. The young man has been in custody since his arrest in August 2016 was used as a pretext for shocking anti-Roma riots in Loshchynivka (Odesa oblast).  Despite the initial assessment having also suggested he had an alibi, and other grounds for concern about the prosecution’s case, there has effectively never been any attempt to consider other explanations for the little girl’s death.   

According to Tetyana Gerasimova from the Centre for Legal Monitoring, a report on the second forensic examination was presented to the Prymorsky Court on 26 November.  It had been ordered by the court at the defence’s request to establish the time frame within which the little girl was murdered.

As reported, the initial assessment by forensic expert Oleh Halev had given the time that the little girl, Angelina, was killed as between 22.00 and 1.25 a.m. during the night of 26-27 August 2016, a period during which Chebotar has an alibi.  This is of critical importance since the  prosecution have claimed that Chebotar committed the crime between 2.30 (from when he does not have an alibi) and 3 a.m., when Angelina’s mother arrived home from work and found that her daughter was missing.

Halev was called in as a witness on 13 December 2019 with Gerasimova giving a detailed account of the increasingly tense atmosphere and questions clearly aimed at stretching out the possible time of the crime to 2.30 a.m., meaning that the defendant could have committed it. Although Halev wavered a little under the intense questioning, he did state that he believed the latest possible time to have been 2 a.m. 

The new forensic examination, signed by Hryhory Kryvda, head of the Odesa Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Assessments, has essentially repeated Halev’s original assessment. Kryvda and his colleagues found that, from the time of death to when Angelina’s body was found (at 9.25 a.m. on 27 August 2016), between 8 and 10 hours had passed. This means that she was murdered between 23.25 and 1.25, when Chebotar was in a bar with a lot of people who have confirmed that he was there all the time, and could not, therefore, have committed the crime.

Gerasimova writes that the findings put the prosecutor in a difficult position since their case is based on the claim that the crime was committed during the half hour where Chebotar does not have an alibi.  In fact, she has earlier pointed out that the prosecutor has clearly not considered other problems with their version, not least the physical difficulty for Chebotar to have sprinted to the house in question, carried out the crime then hidden the body in the dark, all within a very short space of time.

This is not the only evidence pointing to Chebotar’s innocence. A different forensic institute did not find Chebotar’s DNA in the samples taken from under the victim’s fingernails (of her right hand).

Suspicion was earlier reported that apparently damning evidence against Chebotar  might have been faked, since the hand swab taken from the suspect contained only the murder victim’s DNA, and not his own. This is especially disturbing since it points to deliberate falsification, rather than merely omissions.

Given the above discrepancies, it is also difficult to find any good reason for the court’s refusal (first in November 2019, then in April 2020) to order a DNA test from Angelina’s stepfather, Oleksandr Matyash, who, unlike Chebotar, does not have an alibi for the entire timeframe established by the forensic tests. This was surely logical, if only to exclude the stepfather, since two expert assessments had found biological traces of a “third, unidentified individual” on the victim. 

As reported, journalists from TV Ukraina proved more proactive and  carried out their own investigation.  This found that the traces in question seemed to match the DNA of Angelina’s stepfather.  This was obviously not adequate evidence in court, but it was certainly an argument for ordering a proper test, yet in April, prosecutor Svitlana Kolohreva objected to such a test, and the court on 15 April rejected the application.

Chebotar was arrested soon after the body was found, supposedly because his cap was found in Angelina’s house, with this leading police sniffer dogs to his home, where the police also found the believed murder weapon – a screwdriver.

Chebotar has lived in Loshchynivka all his life, yet the fact that he is from a Roma family was used as justification for appalling anti-Roma riots which the police effectively stood back and watched.  The reaction of the local authorities was perhaps even more shocking.  Instead of taking proper measures to protect Roma families, the Mayor of the Loshchynivka Village Council Viktor Paskalov signed a ‘decision’ which supposedly spelled out residents’ demands that the Roma leave Loshchynivka. At least seven families whose homes had been destroyed by the rioters were then ‘escorted’ out of Loshchynivka, and have not returned.

Whether the anti-Roma slant to the events following Chebotar’s arrest made the  investigators loath to turn around and suggest that Chebotar might be innocent, or for other reasons, there was, at best, unwillingness to consider any other possible suspects. 

Chebotar knew the two children well and had often looked after them while their parents were at work.  There had never been any suggestion, either with them or any other children, of sexual depravity or similar.  The prosecution’s claim is that Chebotar had been seized by a sexual urge, and that this prompted the crime.  The problem with that alleged motive is that, according to Chebotar’s lawyer, Andriy Leshchenko, there was no trace of Chebotar’s sperm on the little girl herself, or her clothes. 

During the period now specified by two forensic examinations,  Chebotar was either walking with Matyash from birthday celebration linked with the latter’s brother to the Fortuna Bar, or was with others in the bar. While walking only with Matyash, they dropped into the house to check on the children.  Chebotar has yet to be questioned in court, but in the interview he gave the television journalists from remand prison [SIZO], he asserted that both men had walked into the house.  Angelina’s little brother was fast asleep, but the little girl was not in her bed and, according to Chebotar, Matyash (who had been drinking from early evening) began shouting.  Chebotar asserts that, when Angelina came out of the toilet, Matyash hit her and she fell, hitting her head.  He says that he tried to stop Matyash and hit him, with Matyash hitting him back, after which he walked out.  He assumes that it was during the scuffle with Matyash that he lost his cap.  Chebotar asserts that he went off to the bar alone and that Matyash arrived 20-25 minutes later, having changed his clothes.  He claimed to have fallen and to have needed to go back to change.  According to Chebotar, Matyash had earlier borrowed some screwdrivers from him, and he suddenly pulled them out of his pocket and gave them to Chebotar.  

In October 2019, two witnesses gave testimony that contradicted the prosecution’s version and raised serious doubts about the ‘investigators’’ wish to find the real killer.  Two brothers – Armen Muntyan and Rustam Churar - who were present during the evening in question gave testimony, officially as prosecution witnesses.  Although prosecutor Kolohreva has repeatedly asserted that she had tried in vain to find the two brothers, the defence managed to contact easily enough since one of whom lives in Loshchynivka and the other in a neighbouring village. Both men worked with Chebotar, and had spent the evening, after payday, drinking with him, Matyash and the others.

The brothers’ testimony about that evening and about the behaviour or both Chebotar and Matyash differs radically from that given by other witnesses, who are all either Matyash’s relatives or friends. Gerasimova reports that the details can only be made public after all witnesses have testified, but says that the testimony “places the prosecution’s version in serious doubt”.

The two brothers also stated that they had received calls from Matyash shortly after Angelina’s body was found, asking them to come.  The police were there when they arrived, with Matyash initially under suspicion and taken away for questioning.  Then a cap was found in Matyash’s home which led sniffer dogs to Chebotar’s home nearby.  After a search was carried out of Chebotar’s home, he was taken to the village council, together with the brothers.  In court, they testified that they had been shouted at by the police who demanded that they say that Chebotar had killed the little girl and that the cap was his.  They defended Chebotar then and in court, saying that they did not believe he was guilty and presenting a far from idyllic picture of Angelina’s family life (more details here).

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