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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Convicted in Starovoitova's Murder

Itar-TassYury Kolchin, left, and Vitaly Akishin leaving the St. Petersburg courtroom after being found guilty on Thursday.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A St. Petersburg court on Thursday convicted Vitaly Akishin on charges of firing a gun that killed liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova in the stairwell of her apartment building in 1998, and sentenced him to 23 1/2 years in prison.

Former military intelligence officer Yury Kolchin, who was charged with organizing the murder, was also convicted and sentenced to 20 years, while four other suspects were cleared. A second gunman, who was dressed as a woman, and two other suspects in the high-profile murder remain at large.

Two more suspects are to go on trial soon, while the identity of the person who ordered the killing remains unknown.

Starovoitova, the outspoken leader of the Democratic Russia party, was 52 years old when she was shot dead in her St. Petersburg apartment building on the evening of Nov. 20, 1998. She was struck by three bullets.

Ending a 2 1/2-year trial, the St. Petersburg City Court found Akishin and Kolchin guilty of conspiring to kill a political figure in order to end her political and public activities.

Defendants Yury Ionov and Igor Krasnov were found not guilty because they were unaware that they were helping with the attack, while Alexei Voronin and Igor Lelyavin were freed because a six-year statute of limitations on charges of illegal weapons possession had expired and they had not conspired to cover up the crime, the court ruled.

Prosecutor Igor Sokhanenko said he would appeal. Prosecutors had sought life sentences for Kolchin and Akishin and 4 1/2 years to 15 years for the other suspects.

Olga Starovoitova, a sister of the slain deputy, said she was satisfied with the verdict and pleased that it acknowledged that the killing was politically motivated.

Investigators previously also looked into theories that Starovoitova was killed in a business dispute.

Starovoitova's former assistant, Ruslan Linkov, who was injured in the attack, said he regretted that the investigation had gone on longer than the statute of limitations on some charges. He said the release of the four suspects might make it more difficult to track down the person who put out the contract on Starovoitova.

Yuly Rybakov, a human rights advocate and former political ally of Starovoitova's, said the prison terms were too short, especially since the men could earn early release for good behavior in a few years.

"Such light sentences basically mean that all these people will be released in 10 years and will continue killing people for political reasons," he said.

Kolchin's lawyer Vyacheslav Mikhailov called the verdict against his client unfair.

"I believe the court made the decision purely for public relations purposes," he said.

He did not say whether he would file an appeal.

Akishin's lawyer said his client would appeal, Ekho Moskvy reported.

Investigators said Kolchin worked as a driver for a leader of the Tambov crime group at the time of the killing. They said the five other defendants were members of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR.

LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky testified during the trial that members of his party were not involved in the murder.

The killing received widespread media attention, and then-President Boris Yeltsin promised a thorough investigation. President Vladimir Putin, who was the director of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, at the time, personally assured Linkov that the FSB would find the killers and those who ordered the attack, Linkov said in February. Linkov said Putin had made the promise while visiting him in the hospital shortly after the attack.

One of the freed suspects, Voronin, pleaded guilty after his arrest and then helped investigators with the case. The other five defendants maintained their innocence.

All six were residents of the town of Dyadkovo in the Bryansk region. Aside from Kolchin, investigators have not said what the suspects did for a living.

St. Petersburg's FSB branch, which has overseen the investigation, intends soon to turn over to court the case of two more suspects, Vyacheslav Lelyavin, a brother of the suspect that was acquitted on Thursday, and Pavel Stekhnovsky, FSB spokesman Valery Kuznetsov said.

The three other suspects -- suspected gunman Oleg Fedosov, Sergei Musin and Igor Bogdanov -- are still at large.

An identified defendant in the trial testified last July that former Duma Deputy Mikhail Glushchenko had ordered the killing, RIA-Novosti reported at the time. Glushchenko, a former LDPR member, reportedly lives abroad.

Kuznetsov said the FSB was still trying to identify who put out the contract, and refused to say whether Glushchenko was under investigation.

Liberal politicians on Thursday urged the authorities to find out who had given the order.

"The value of life, even of a well-known politician, has sharply fallen today," said Sergei Ivanenko, a leader of the Yabloko party, Interfax reported. "And that is largely because the work of law enforcement agencies ... has shown either a lack of will or an inability to determine the people who order political murders."

"It can't fail to give us satisfaction that the killers got what they deserved, ... but it's bad that the people who ordered this politically motivated crime remain unidentified," said Boris Nadezhdin, a leader of the Union of Right Forces party.

Only one person has ever been convicted of ordering a murder in the handful of killings of prominent figures in post-Soviet Russia. Mikhail Kodanyov, who headed a wing of the Liberal Russia party that supported businessman Boris Berezovsky, was convicted in March 2004 of ordering the 2003 murder of Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, who headed a rival faction of Liberal Russia that had voted to expel Berezovsky.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Kodanyov feared that the rival wings might unite and that he would have to step down as a party leader and hand over his control of the party's finances to Yushenkov.

Anatoly Medetsky contributed to this report from Moscow.