First “jury trial” in Ukraine ends with an acquittal
In a telling development, the first person to be tried under the semi jury system introduced in the new Criminal Procedure Code has been acquitted and set free in the courtroom. Oleksandr Bondarenko from Sumy had spent just over a year in custody charged with armed robbery and murder. The court found that the case against him was based solely on a confession very likely tortured out of him and two pieces of evidence both of which suggest that they were falsified.
The “jury” at the Zarechny District Court in Sumy, consisting of presiding Judge Iryna Klimashevska; one other judge and three jurors issued its verdict on Oct. It acquitted 21-year-old Bondarenko, finding that “the main part of the evidence was obtained through flagrant violations of current legislation”.
At the beginning of October 2012 a house in the village of Stetskovka was broken into. Two elderly women awoke to find the intruder who turned on them. One died in the ambulance, the other 11 days later in hospital.
Bondarenko was taken by police during the evening of 6 October to an animal feed factory where he was held under the next afternoon. “I signed what they told me to”. Bondarenko later retracted his “confession” and explained in court that he had confessed because the police tortured and threatened him through the night, applying electric shock, beating him, putting a gas mask on him. The jury found that Bondarenko’s account of the circumstances was corroborated by three witnesses who had seen him in the factory where the police had no right to be holding him.
Bondarenko complained to the Prosecutor’s Office but the latter, having supposedly carried out a check, refused to initiate criminal proceedings under the old CPC and decided to terminate proceedings in accordance with the new Code.
The court expressed criticism of these decisions by the Prosecutor’s Office noting that the check was a mere formality and only police officers were questioned. There had been no questioning of village residents who had seen Bondarenko immediately before he was detained, then during the investigative measures and could have confirmed or refuted reports of bruises etc. The Prosecutor’s Office had also ignored the forensic report which did find bruises and abrasions.
The court therefore decided that the prosecution had not refuted Bondarenko’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment and that the Prosecutor’s Office had not made a proper effort to find out whether the defendant had been subjected to such treatment.
The court also pointed out that the style and vocabulary used in the supposed confession did not correspond to Bondarenko’s level of education and general intellectual level. Nor had a lawyer been present while the confession was being written. The court noted other irregularities as well.
One of the main pieces of evidence – a cigarette butt - was rejected by the court since it had only been found on Oct. 7. Bondarenko’s lawyer suggested that the police had obtained the cigarette butt after the night interrogation of her client and left it at the place of the crime, which had already been scoured for evidence on Oct. 2. The situation with the socks which were supposed to be the second piece of evidence is even more damning with their removal having been without witnesses present and with the colour and material constantly changing in the case file.
From a report here