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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

6 Acquitted in Kholodov Murder Trial

The Moscow Military District Court on Wednesday acquitted all six defendants in one of the most high-profile murder cases of the past decade -- the 1994 killing of Moskovsky Komsomolets reporter Dmitry Kholodov, who was investigating corruption in the highest echelons of the Defense Ministry.

The defendants -- Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, the former chief of intelligence in the airborne troops; four former officers in the airborne troops, Alexander Soroka, Vladimir Morozov, Konstantin Mirzayants and Konstantin Barkovsky; and Alexander Kapuntsov, the deputy head of a private security firm -- were freed in the courtroom. Each had spent 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 years in pre-trial detention.

Prosecutors had attempted to prove that Popovskikh organized the murder of the young journalist on the orders of then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.

But the judge, Major General Vladimir Serdyukov, said in the verdict, which took three hours to read, that the evidence was inconclusive. And as for the other five defendants, no motive was demonstrated at all.

"We have justice in this country," said defense lawyer Igor Yartykh. The defendants said they would now seek compensation for the time spent in jail.

Popovskikh said in televised remarks that he and his fellow officers had long been convinced that they would be acquitted. "There was no other way," he said.

Prosecutors said they would appeal.

"We have no doubt that justice in this case will be restored," said Prosecutor General's Office spokesman Leonid Troshin.

Kholodov's parents and colleagues were stunned by the verdict. "We are all in the state of shock," said Moskovsky Komsomolets political editor Yekaterina Deyeva. She was slightly wounded on Oct. 17, 1994, when Kholodov, 27, was killed by a bomb in a briefcase. He had collected the briefcase from luggage check at Kazansky Station, having been told it contained documents incriminating Defense Ministry officials in corruption.

"Dima Kholodov was killed twice," Deyeva said. "Today his memory and his cause have been killed."

Grachev has confirmed that he expressed displeasure with Kholodov's articles, but denied that he ever gave anything that could be construed as an order to kill him.

During the course of the investigation, some of the defendants had confessed to some aspects of the crime, but changed their testimony in court.

Deyeva blamed the acquittal on investigators' failure to interrogate Grachev and his associates early and thoroughly, as well as on a lack of desire to prove the officers' guilt. Military officers, she said, are rarely held accountable for what they do in carrying out orders.

Former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov pointed to the fact that Serdyukov is the same judge who in January 2000 acquitted officers in the 1996 explosion at the Kotlyakovskoye Cemetery, which killed 14 people. The verdict was eventually reversed by the Supreme Court. "It is strange that the Kholodov case was entrusted to the same judge who had already made a mistake," Interfax quoted Skuratov as saying.