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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Swiss Court Orders Kaloyev's Release

APFlowers resting at the grave of Kaloyev's wife, Svetlana, and children, Diana and Konstantin, in Vladikavkaz in 2004.
Switzerland's highest court on Thursday ordered the release of a North Ossetian architect imprisoned since 2004 for killing an air traffic controller he blamed for the death of his wife and children in a plane collision.

The Swiss Federal Tribunal rejected an appeal by Zurich prosecutors against the reduction of Vitaly Kaloyev's sentence to 5 1/4 years from eight years. Kaloyev's release was ordered because he had served more than two-thirds of his sentence with good behavior.

Two of the court's five judges dissented from the majority opinion, calling the current sentence against the 51-year-old too mild.

Kaloyev was convicted in October 2005 of premeditated homicide in the killing of Danish-born Peter Nielsen, an air traffic controller with Swiss company Skyguide.

Nielsen was the only person on duty when a Bashkirian Airlines plane and a DHL cargo jet collided on July 1, 2002, in airspace he was responsible for over southern Germany. The crash killed 71 people, most of them Russian schoolchildren on a vacation trip to Spain.

Kaloyev's sister Zoya said relatives would be gathering in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, to welcome him back home.

"We ... all prayed yesterday for the end of Vitaly's suffering in prison," she said, Itar-Tass reported. "We always believed that sooner or later justice would prevail and Vitaly would be freed."

North Ossetian leader Taimuraz Mamsurov welcomed the ruling, saying everyone in the region "has been closely watching their countryman's fate," and was looking forward to his return, Itar-Tass reported.

The sentence against Kaloyev, whose ordeal brought him widespread sympathy in Russia, was reduced by a regional court in July, which upheld his appeal that he acted with diminished responsibility because of the deaths of his wife and two children.

Zurich prosecutors appealed the decision, but their defeat Thursday means there are no more legal obstacles to Kaloyev's release, which had been scheduled to take place on Aug. 24.

Kaloyev has acknowledged that he must have killed Nielsen in February 2004 but said he could not remember the slaying. Kaloyev tracked down Nielsen by hiring a private detective and confronted him at his home near the Zurich airport, stabbing him to death in front of his wife and three children.

Thursday's court decision coincided with the start of a two-day visit by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey to Moscow.