Teens Enter Pleas on Hate Crime Charges

The trial of 12 minors charged with a series of racially motivated crimes last year, including the murder of a Sakha native that was filmed with a cell phone, opened Monday with some of the accused entering pleas of not guilty.

There is also one adult among those standing trial on two charges of murder and 10 charges of attempted murder for crimes committed between August and October. The defendants allegedly targeted dark-skinned foreigners, filmed the attacks and shared the footage via ICQ.

The remaining defendants pleaded guilty to only some of the charges, said Moscow City Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova. She would not provide specific figures for the number who had pleaded guilty or not guilty.

Judge Vladimir Usov had ordered the trial closed to the public and media, in accordance with Russian law in cases involving minors.

The suspects have been charged with premeditated murder, attempted murder and inciting ethnic hatred.

Monday's proceeding involved only the entering of pleas by the accused and Prosecutor Dmitry Dyadyura's request that the court hand down guilty sentences to all 13 defendants, before hearings were adjourned until Tuesday morning.

One of the attacks the teens are charged with is the murder of Sakha native and tournament chess player Sergei Nikolayev, 46, who was stabbed to death by drunken football fans on Oct. 20, following a victory by the Spartak Moscow football club.

Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of the Sova Center, which tracks hate crimes, has called the case unprecedented because the suspects are the first group prosecutors have acknowledged as carrying out "organized, large-scaled Nazi campaigns."

This trial opened on the heels of an announcement Friday by Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin that the number of hate crimes committed in Moscow has increased sixfold this year.

As of last week, 60 people have been murdered and 209 wounded in hate crimes in Moscow, according to statistics compiled by the Sova Center.