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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jury Clears Teen of Tajik Girl's Murder

ST. PETERSBURG -- A jury has cleared a teenager of murder charges in the stabbing of a 9-year-old Tajik girl in 2004, finding him guilty instead of hooliganism and calling for leniency in his sentence.

Prosecutors said they would appeal the verdict, delivered late Wednesday in the St. Petersburg City Court.

"The jurors made a groundless decision and ignored the strong evidence we presented," prosecutor Svetlana Yefimenko said. "We are definitely going to send an appeal."

Nine of the 12 jurors found Roman Kazakov, now 16, not guilty in the death of Khursheda Sultanova. A simple majority is needed for a verdict in jury trials.

Natella Ponomoryova, a lawyer who represented the girl's family in court, said that the defendant skillfully played on the jurors' emotions.

"Kazakov was cleared because he managed to get the jurors to feel compassion for him and to feel sorry for him," she said. "His young age may have played a role as well."

Kazakov, who had maintained his innocence, was the only one of eight defendants charged with murder in the attack on the girl; her father, Yusuf, and an 11-year-old cousin in the courtyard of their apartment building on the night of Feb. 9, 2004.

The seven other defendants, now aged 15 to 21, were charged with hooliganism.

The jury acquitted one of them Wednesday after he had admitted his participation in the attack during the investigation into the incident and again during the five-month trial, which was closed because four of the defendants are juveniles.

The other six maintained their innocence but were convicted of hooliganism Wednesday.

The court will convene Friday to consider sentences for the defendants.

Prosecutors say the young men were drinking in a park in central St. Petersburg on the night of the attack and approached by unidentified men who convinced them to attack the Tajik family.

The girl was stabbed nine times.

Her murder has been singled out by Amnesty International as one of the worst racially motivated crimes in Russia. St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko had taken the investigation of the case under her personal control.

Yury Vdovin, an activist with the St. Petersburg branch of the Citizens' Watch rights watchdog, said Wednesday's verdict echoed widespread xenophobic sentiments in society. "The verdict reflects growing xenophobia, the unsympathetic way most people are feeling toward non-Russians," he said, noting that racism was particularly prevalent in St. Petersburg.

Russian experts on violent xenophobia concur that St. Petersburg is the skinhead capital of Russia and accounts for a disproportionally large number of attacks against dark-skinned migrants and foreigners.

Vdovin and Alexander Verkhovsky, a Sova researcher who tracks racially motivated violence, said St. Petersburg law enforcement authorities were partially responsible because they tended to treat offenders with lenience. Verkhovsky noted two recent trials involving local neo-Nazi groups Schultz 66 and Mad Crowd that dragged on for two years each and ended with relatively light sentences for the defendants.

Verkhovsky said that since courts recently began to qualify attacks against migrants as being racially motivated and to issue heavier sentences for attackers, the number of racially motivated murders had dropped from 46 in 2004 to 28 last year.

"In the Sultanova case, the attackers should be given serious sentences to deter nationalist youth in St. Petersburg from committing such attacks," he said.