It's been 11 years since then 18-year-old army conscript Emil Chivtchyan (pictured), who served in a Vanadzor military unit for less than 80 days, returned home.
Chivtchyan, who is being held in Nubarashen penitentiary, is one of 14 former soldiers who were sentenced to life in prison. Chivtchyan was accused of the premeditated, intentional murder of fellow servicemen Arman Davtyan and brothers Levon and Hamlet Barseghyan in the storage space of a Vanadzor military unit the night of August 5, 2003.
As a motive for the murder, the investigation body (which was compiled by then military prosecutor Gagik Jhangiryan, led by senior investigator Kh. Ghaltakhchyan and including senior investigator Armen Hakobyan) cited the $50 USD Emil allegedly paid to get a short-term leave. According to the charge, he gave this money to one of the victims, Junior Sergeant Arman Davtyan, but he never got his promised leave.
The charge and sentence were based on the confessions of the accused, including Chivtchyan, given during the preliminary investigation. Two of the accused, however, refused to testify during the court procedure, claiming that their pre-trial confessions were extorted through torture, intimidation, and the threat that their families would be harmed. "They were beating us even in the presence of their appointed lawyers, and they were convincing us to take responsibility for the murder," reads one of the protocols. From the start of the trial till today, Emil insists that he is innocent, that he didn't commit murder.
Responding to Hetq's series on "Distorted Destinies," Emil's mother, Varsenik Ghazaryan told Hetq how the family has been fighting for 11 years to prove Emil's innocence, writing appeals to every state body but receiving replies that the court ruling is in effect, true and examined by all sides. "Even when Gevorg Kostanyan was newly appointed as the general prosecutor, we went with Emil's attorney, Samvel Mirzoyan, to visit him. The general prosecutor listened to us and said that new circumstances are necessary. But the case was examined with horrible violations — who's going to pay attention to this?" Ghazaryan told Hetq.
Ghazaryan accounted how Emil grew up in Yerevan, went to school, and had serious problems with his eyesight, but he was drafted into army 2 years after graduation, at age 18. "My son managed to serve only 78 days. He wanted to participate in his brother's birthday celebrations in August; he said they're arranging it for 50 dollars. We sent the money, but the day after the incident Emil called us and said he can't take a leave, that he heard in the military unit that the serviceman who was going to arrange the leave has been murdered. Days passed, and we found out that the soldiers, among them Emil, were taken to the military prosecutor's office. Then we found out what abuse my son was subjected to; I can't even describe it; I don't even want to remember that horror, for him to testify against himself. Can you imagine what they can force, with what tricks, what methods, for a man to confess out of fear, that he committed the murder of 3 soldiers?"
Hetq attempted to pick up the pieces of this case, studying a seven-volume criminal case and becoming acquainted with the materials, the interrogation protocols of the two accused, the witnesses, and the suspects, the charge, and the test results.
About 30 tests were conducted in this case (criminological, traceological, psychological, ballistic, drug and alcohol tests and so on), 8 of which referred directly to Emil Chivtchyan, but none of the findings from any of the tests substantiated that Emil was a participant in the murder.
Emil went from being a witness to a suspect and then to the accused in 3 days. He was charged on August 9, 2003. On August 8, he testified as a witness and said he was unaware of the murder. But only 40 minutes later, he confessed that he committed the murder. That interrogation lasted eight-and-a-half hours, which is a violation of the Criminal Procedure Code: According to Article 205.1, interrogation cannot last longer than 4 consecutive hours. After 8.5 hours, Emil said that his eyes hurt, that the doctor instilled eye drop medication in his eyes, and he was in no condition to continue the interrogation. However, about 3 hours later, at 2:20 am, the interrogation resumed and lasted until 5:40 am, during which time the two investigators, Ghaltakhchyan and Hakobyan, taking turns, wrote the 18-year-old soldier's testimony in more detail by hand.
This case is very similar to the circumstances surrounding the case of 18-year-old former soldier Artur Mkrtchyan, whose death sentence was changed to life imprisonment by a presidential decree in 2003, and whom Hetq covered in a separate series. In both cases, there are soldiers who were killed while they were sleeping, and in both cases, there is a witness who, according to the case materials, was at the scene of the crime but remained alive, becoming one of the accused.
P.S. Hetq also spoke with Samvel Mirzoyan, the lawyer who defended Emil in court 11 years ago, and Vahagn Davtyan, the attorney reviewing the case today. What omissions or violations are there in the case? What can be done 11 years later, when the scene of the crime and the evidence are destroyed? Expert opinions will be presented in future articles.
To be continued…