Justice in the Balance


Dmytro, his wife Ludmila and daughter Veronica (photo: Maxim Kourov)

Two men have finally been released from custody after six years in SIZO on the basis of a “confession” beaten out of one of them and despite howling discrepancies and infringements of their right to defence

For six years Dmytro Donskoy was held in a SIZO or remand prison. Throughout that period he maintained his innocence. Correspondents from the Vhoru Journalist Investigation Agency were present at all court hearings over the last year and now Victoria Hlebova from the newspaper reports that on 26 November Dmytro Donskoy was released – but not acquitted.

The court was unable to establish what happened six years ago, whether Dmytro and the other defendant – Stas – were guilty.  The police asserted that the two men had attacked Serhiy, hit him on the head with a hammer, kicked the man as he lay on the ground and stole his mobile telephone.

The police continued to insist that they’d caught the right men and didn’t look at any other versions. They supposedly had irrefutable evidence: the mobile telephone itself and Stas’ confession. Another investigator searched Dmytro’s flat and found the “crime weapon” – a hammer.  He spoke with a neighbour who had seen Dmytro on the landing at the time of the attack. She had, however, seen him from behind in semi-darkness and could therefore not absolutely identify him.

The investigator was totally unperturbed by the lack of any traces of blood on the hammer or the defendant’s clothes and shoes which there should have been.  Nor did they seem bothered by the fact that both men are right-handed, although the victim was probably hit with the hammer by somebody left-handed.

The case material includes a statement from Stas that he had made the “confession” in which he implicated Dmytro as well under torture.  He had been beaten with a baseball bat around the kidney area and a bag was put over his head, until he “confessed” though in fact neither men were guilty.

The investigator spoke with one of the police officers who of course denied everything.  The investigator believed his colleague and concluded that Stas was lying to avoid the punishment he deserved.

Six months later witnesses of the arrest all testified that the police had taken Stas into a room on the first floor of the station and that cries were heard from there. He was then taken out, bent over as if from extreme pain.

The first court sentenced Dmytro to 12 years, Stas to 9,   They both maintained their innocence and the case went through all levels, right up to the Supreme Court.  A new trial was called and from February 2012 Judge Svitlana Maidan endeavoured to establish the truth, eliminating all the police, prosecutor’s and court discrepancies and things not taken into account

Throughout the six years, neither police nor prosecutors provided any new evidence of the men’s guilt, nor did they explain any of the discrepancies. There is a letter to the Prosecutor’s office in the case file where a completely different person confesses to the robbery and describes what happened. The Prosecutor answered that such an event was not recorded, while the police simply don’t comment.

After studying all the case material, the court, defendants and their lawyers asked for a criminal investigation to be initiated against the police officers and for the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out a check to establish who beat a confession out of Stas, how and when.  The judge had to delay examination of other aspects twice in order to gain clarity on that point.  The prosecutors have consistently refused to investigate, and when the lawyers asked for a new examination but with the defendants released from custody, the Prosecutor objected. He claimed not only that the investigation had been carried out in full accordance with the law, but that Stas had confessed and the weapon had been found at Dmytro’s home: a hammer with traces of blood.  At this point, the Judge responded asking why she was hearing of this for the first time.

In the name of Ukraine

There was a final, terrible week of waiting while Judge Svitlana Maidan prepared her ruling.  It was, thankfully, worth waiting for.  She pointed to grave violations of Dmytro’s right to defence, itemizing some shocking examples, then announced that the case should be sent to the Kherson Regional Prosecutor to organize a full investigation in order to conduct a full, objective and comprehensive examination. She also ordered a full and objective Prosecutor’s check into the use against Stas of inadmissible means of investigation.

She stated that even suspicion of committing a serious crime cannot be grounds for holding people in custody for 6 years and released both men on a signed undertaking not to abscond.

Dmytro is at home with his family.

Vhoru writes that the journalist investigation was carried out with the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation.  The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Foundation.  The names have all been altered.

Based on the much longer article here

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