Recently European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) has combined several court cases related to justice in Russia based on systematic violations of the rights of prosecuted who had been ruled guilty in the absence of key witnesses. In all of these cases the courts ruled that the prosecuted were guilty on the basis of the testimonies of witnesses that had been given during the initial stage of preliminary investigation, while in court these testimonies had been only read out and accepted as proof, while at the same time witnesses themselves had not been present in the court room and the courts had claimed that it had been impossible to have them testify in person. In these cases the attorneys of the prosecuted were deprived of the possibility to pose direct questions to people, whose testimonies served as the basis of guilty verdict. Thus the courts violated Article 6 of the European Convention on the Human Rights (paragraphs 1 and 3 of section D), which guarantees just consideration by the court, including the possibility to question witnesses for the prosecution in person.
In our opinion, such was the case of Zhanna Lakatosz, who was found guilty in spring of 2014 and was sentenced to 10 years for murder, although she had not admitted her guilt and the people who were witnesses for the prosecution were scared to speak in court, while the witnesses for the defense had claimed that one of the key witnesses for the prosecution was in fact the real murderer in this case. This decision of ECtHR on the systematic violations in the practice of Russian courts, which make rulings in cases that are likely to be based on false testimonies by the witnesses, gives hope that the harsh sentence to Zhanna Lakatosz may be reconsidered and overruled in the upcoming consideration of this case by a city court in Russia.
Charges against Zhanna Lakatosz that she had killed a little child, Maxim S., the son of her friend who had been arrested earlier, was based on the testimonies of people who had an interest in a guilty verdict against Zhanna. One of them was her partner Alexander Dyerd, who was the first to be considered as a suspect by the police: the imprints of his boots were taken after the scars from boots were found on the body of the dead child. The court also considered the testimonies of Itsa Tonto, mother of Alexander Dyerd, to be most valuable, because police had earlier used her services as a translator in cases when other Roma people from this settlement had been arrested in cases of small theft (this is a common source of income for the impoverished Roma community). There are also reasons to believe that Itsa Tonto in some cases helped the police to arrest those whom she personally considered necessary to turn in to the police.
During the investigation of the case testimonies were made by witnesses in the absence of lawyers, they sounded very similar to each other as if were given under dictation. The court tried to invite witnesses to court to speak in person on several occasions and even ruled to make them come and testify, but to no effect. In spite of the other testomonies made by the witnesses for the defense – including the mother of the murdered child, who was the interested party in this case! – Itsa Tonto claimed that Zhanna had treated this child badly and had beaten him up on several occasions. Tonto had supposedly witnessed the scene of the fatal beating through a window, when the child had supposedly received a fatal blow in the head. But it was well known that Tonto’s house doesn’t have any windows, which was proven by photos presented by an expert on the Roma people, who had earlier taken pictures of the settlement for his scientific research. There is no doubt that if the attorneys for the defense were able to interrogate Tonto in person during the court meeting about the supposed “windows” and how a relatively small woman could deliver such a strong blow (investigative experts stated that the blow had been supposedly delivered by a metal object), what was the origin of the scars from male boots on Maxim’s body and many other suspicious circumstances of the case, which were in contradiction with the real bodies of proof, it is unlikely that the guilt of Zhanna Lakatosz was proven.
The main argument of the defense was the testimony given by a 12-year old boy, Andrey, the only dweller of the Roma settlement who had come to court and gave rather extensive and reasonable testimonies in person. Andrey in fact saw what happened to Maxim (and even Tonto had said during the preliminary investigation that he had been the only real witness of what had happened there). During the cross-examination in court Andrey explained the origin of the fatal hematoma on Maxim’s head: according to him, the boy that had been left unsupervised, when both his mother and Zhanna, who had taken care of him, had been detained by the police, lived together with Dyerd, a stranger to him. Dyerd hit Maxim in the head, when he suffered from a minor injury during repairs of furniture, which he thought was due to the kid, who was crying and distracting him. Andrey‘s testimony concerning the origin of the burns on Maxim’s feet was also well grounded. While the investigators claimed that these were in fact scars from frost burns caused by Zhanna Lakatosz because she supposedly has thrown the boy on the street when it had been cold (expertise disagreed with this claim), Andrey testified that after Dyerd had hit Maxim and Itsa Tonto had been called, the latter saw that the boy was dying and started to scold her son Dyerd while at the same time trying to reanimate the kid by placing red-hot cups from the fire onto the soles of the boy’s feet.
Andrey testified that the real murderer of Maxim had been Dyerd and that the testimonies that had been given by the latter and his mother during the preliminary investigation were aimed at laying the burden of prosecution at Zhanna in spite of her having an alibi (Zhanna had been arrested several days before the murder of Maxim). Andrey stated that he was scared to testify against Dyerd for some time because the latter had threatened him (“Don’t be a fool”, Dyerd is reported to have said to Andrey and the latter knew what Dyerd was capable of doing.)
But the testimony of Andrey was not taken into consideration by the court, same as the other testimonies by the witnesses for the defense. It is obvious that the right of Zhanna Lakatosz for defense was seriously violated by the court. We hope that the case can be considered properly by the court in Strasbourg.
by Piotr Krasnov