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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspect in Priest's Murder Acquitted

More than five years after the murder of respected priest and theologist Alexander Men, the man who was arrested, held for five months and twice made to confess to his killing was acquitted Monday.

"Of course we're all very happy," said Men's son, Mikhail, a deputy in the State Duma. "Finally justice has won, and it makes us very optimistic that maybe legal reform really is taking place here and that one day Russia will become a state that's governed by a rule of law. And of course it's good that an innocent man is being cleared."

Igor Bushnev, 50, was arrested and held in custody after confessing to murdering Men with an ax.

After withdrawing his statement, Bushnev admitted guilt a second time, but later said both confessions were made under pressure and blackmail from senior officials.

"The whole procedure shows the complete incompetence of the investigation," Men said. "They tried to blame the first person they could, but now finally it's clear that this is not 1937, it's not the 1960s or the 1980s and that we're living at a time where you can't accuse an innocent man."

Both Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin undertook to oversee the investigation, which provided few results and led to an abundance of theories over the real cause of the priest's death.

While some believed it to be a random murder, others, including his son, saw it as a premeditated political move, or as a warning to others who tried to challenge authority.

Early on the morning of Sept. 9, 1990, Men was heading from the village of Semkhoz, about 70 kilometers east of Moscow, to the train station on his way to his parish church when he was hit on the head with an object believed to be an ax. He died shortly thereafter.

Presiding Judge Yekaterina Sysoyeva said the prosecution failed to prove Bushnev's guilt, and that Bushnev had made a false confession under duress, Interfax reported from the Sergiyev Posad district court.

Bushnev told the agents that he would consult lawyers before deciding whether to sue law enforcement agents, NTV Independent Television reported.

While he doubts that his father's killer will ever be found, Mikhail Men said Monday's verdict gave him new hope for real progress in the investigation.

"I think that at this point it's impossible to find who did this, but in fact that's not the most important thing," he said. "I believe that as long as the country does not go back to totalitarianism, one day information about who was behind it will be made available."