Friday, 06 December

Let the Real Criminals Think about Real Punishment “: Former Soldier Sentenced to Life in Prison Claims He was Framed

Almost 10 years ago, three young men, Artur Kocharyan, Avetik Tumanyan, and Suren Zobanyan (then 19 years old), accused of the murder of fellow military conscript Artur Mesropyan, were sentenced to prison, where they have been all this time. To this day, they and their parents insist they are innocent and were framed. The evidence is scant, to say the least. Hetq recently begun investigating the case, speaking to the families and the attorneys involved in the case to uncover the details of this story. This is the third in a series of articles on this case; the previous articles can be read here and here (in Armenian only).  

The flowers and basket are made from prison bread dough. The person who made them is lifer, former soldier Artur Kocharyan, who has been in Nubarashen Penitentiary for 10 years and who sent this basket to his mother. "For 10 years we have been fighting with the parents of the other two boys, Avetik and Surik, so that we can prove our sons' innocence. But the state bodies are silent. There's no progress. We wait with hope to see our son in prison once a year. It's horrible… After all, I gave a soldier to the Armenian army. But they haven't been able to bring him back home for 10 years now," Artur Kocharyan's mother told Hetq, showing her son's handicrafts sent from prison.  

Former military conscripts Artur Kocharyan, Avetik Tumanyan, and Suren Zobanyan, who today are almost 30-year-old men, were accused of murder and sentenced to life in prison when they were 19 years old by the Court of First Instance of Ararat and Vayots Dzor Districts. A Criminal Court of Appeal ruling reduced Tumanyan's and Zobanyan's prison sentences to 15 years, while Kocharyan's remained unchanged. The last option for appeal in Armenia's judicial system, the Court of Cassation, rejected the appeal. 

The attorneys involved in this case have said there is nothing in the examination underlying the verdict, according to which the defendant's fingerprints and the samples taken from them could appear on the deceased, soldier Artur Mesropyan's body or clothing. 

Hetq spoke with attorney Vahe Margaryan, who defended the interests of Avetik and Surik 10 years ago in court. Margaryan said the court was unable to prove the three boys' guilt. "It's basic logic: imagine, there's blood all around, since the soldier had already slit his wrists, anyone attached to him would've been covered in blood. And it turns out that no sample taken from the three boys was found on Artur Mesropyan's body or clothes. The three soldiers unanimously testified that they didn't see what happened. I twice met with former General Prosecutor [of Armenia] Gevorg Kostanyan, presented the circumstances of this case, but heard from him the following: newly emerged circumstances are needed. Participating in the trial, I know what gross violations were permitted. There isn't at least one convincing argument that the three young men are guilty. The only basis the investigation and the courts took from one of the soldiers Andranik Karapetyan's testimonies and made a case." 

At the end of the ruling, as always, we read the well-known expression about destroying the material evidence obtained in the case: "Destroying and throwing away the rock, the soil, the samples in 8 envelopes, the sample of a piece of wood, blood samples, the samples taken from under the defendant's nails, as well as clothes, the belt of Mesropyan's pants, the military uniform, and underwear..." That is, with scientific development, grounds for carrying out new examinations are destroyed. The only basis for reopening the case remains newly emerged circumstances. 

The following is an excerpt from Artur Kocharyan's last remarks in court: 

 "I do not ask for your forgiveness because I don't have even a speck of guilt. Let the real criminals think about real punishment — their backers, sponsors. Let Artur's parents and he, Artur, forgive me, for not being by his side at that moment, to help. And let God forgive us all. Understand, I am not guilty. How are you going to bear this much guilt in your soul? I won't ask for mild treatment or forgiveness, but I have another request: recognize my innocence or send the case back to examination. What I regret is that my mother's eyes see not a soldier but a murderer. Artur's mother looks at a person who is almost in the state of her son… I die inside each day. All the same, sooner or later, the real criminal will carry out his evil work again. I pray that God doesn't abandon me, but you in this important and decisive moment. I myself condemn the act that was committed… This comes from the fact that no one was interested in the truth. There is someone who consequently corresponds to the role of a victim, and that's it, the rest is insubstantial. And the testimonies given by Andranik are nothing but Judas' 30 pieces of silver. It's odd, but the story of the Testament is repeated — the condemnation of the innocent, the real guilty [party] remaining free." 

P.S. Hetq applied to the Penitentiary Service of the Ministry of Justice to get permission to interview lifer, former soldier Artur Kocharyan in Nubarashen Penitentiary. If consent is obtained, Hetq will publish the interview. 

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