The sisters The Khachaturyans, prosecuted for murder after killing their abusive father, might go free. We asked one of their attorneys what’s going on.
On January 30, news emerged that Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office had requested that the charges against Angelina and Krestina Khachaturyan be reclassified from murder to necessary self-defense. The two young women, along with their younger sister Maria, killed their severely abusive father in July of 2018 and were subsequently prosecuted, sparking a protest movement on their behalf. If the sisters’ case is reclassified, then the charges against them will be dropped. The case is currently undergoing an additional round of investigation in Russia’s Investigative Committee. Pavel Merzlikin asked Alexey Liptser, the attorney representing Krestina Khachaturyan, what the recent turn in the sisters’ case means.
Meduza: When did you learn about the Prosecutor General’s Office’s position on the case?
Alexey Liptser: We learned about it this week at the Investigative Committee when we arrived for the latest session of the investigation. We were given an order from Deputy Prosecutor General [Viktor] Grin to look over that called for a refusal to affirm the prosecutor’s case and an order for the charges to be reinvestigated. We were also given the investigator’s complaint responding to the order and Prosecutor General [Yury] Chaika’s refusal to affirm the complaint. Chaika also indicated that further investigative work is necessary, including further psychological and psychiatric evaluations of the young women involved.
What did the prosecutorial order say?
In his order, Deputy Prosecutor General Grin noted that the investigators provided an incorrect classification for the young women’s actions using Article 105, Part Two of the Criminal Codex [murder committed by a group or in a premeditated conspiracy]. He also found that their actions involved necessary self-defense and wrote that their actions should be considered to have taken place within the bounds of necessary self-defense.
What motivation did the prosecutor’s office give for that decision?
They cited the psychological and psychiatric evaluations of the sisters, the postmortem examination of the father, the young women’s testimony regarding violence [from their father]. They essentially looked at all of the case materials as well as the plenary order from the Supreme Court that said necessary self-defense may be extended over a period of time and that if a victim senses that their life and health are in danger, they need not wait for a specific moment when they are attacked in order to respond.
What can the Investigative Committee do now, given the new prosecutorial position?
They can attempt to send the case to prosecutors to have an argument for Article 105, Part Two charges confirmed, but if the Prosecutor General’s Office disagrees with that argument, which it does, then it will return the case [to investigators] with a note saying the charges must be either reclassified or closed. The Investigative Committee is in a complicated situation now because without prosecutorial support, they can’t send the case to trial.
Are we definitely talking about necessary self-defense, not abusing the right to self-defense, as some media sources have reported?
Yes. By all accounts, in order to comply with the order, the Investigative Committee will have to cease its prosecution [of the sisters].
Igor Ivanko / Moskva news agency
By what deadline does the Investigative Committee have to develop a new position on the case?
When a reinvestigation was ordered, it was scheduled to last for a month — until February 2020. However, we understood from what the investigator told us that they have already submitted documents requesting an extension of that term — they’re aiming for four months, though that has not been confirmed. I think that now, we’re going to wait for the evaluations to be completed, for the results to come back, and then we’re going to put the question to them of complying with the order by dropping the charges.
In theory, could the prosecutor’s office still change its position and support the Investigative Committee? For example, if some new circumstances come to light during the new investigative process.
In theory, it is possible if they find some new really essential circumstances in the case. In this case, though, I don’t see that occurring because the case has been under investigation for a year and a half and everything that could have been found out already has been. The defense believes that the case could have been closed a whole year ago.
What do you think — why did the Investigative Committee not do that on its own, and now the prosecutor’s office has come forward with this new position on the principles of the case?
It’s hard to say. You’d have to be involved in some kind of government agency to know all the ins and outs. As far as I understand it, though, the choice to classify the case under Article 105, Part Two was made in part by the upper leadership of the Investigative Committee. Because the investigator’s complaint about the deputy prosecutor general’s order was supported by Investigative Committee Chair [Alexander] Bastrykin. And the prosecutor’s office has the right to disagree with that. What caused that decision [to disagree] is hard to say.
And Chaika has rejected the investigator’s complaint, right?
Yes, the order [from Deputy Prosecutor General Grin] was on December 12, and on December 27, Chaika’s order came in.
Don’t you think that the new prosecutor general will change that stance? After all, he [Igor Krasnov] is an Investigative Committee man.
We have some concerns on that count. I don’t know how somebody who has held the role of deputy chair of the Investigative Committee might react to the situation as prosecutor general.
Why did the order come about in December when it did?
Because on December 2, investigators sent the case to the prosecutors. And they had 10 days to make a decision. On December 12, they gave their order to reconsider the case.
Could any of the events that took place in [Russia] in late 2019 have affected this decision?
It’s hard to say. Of course, one could speculate that they tried to coordinate it all temporally. But the prosecution kept delaying its deadline for examining the case materials. If it hadn’t, then the case would have been sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office in October. So I think it’s unlikely there were any external circumstances involved here. It’s just how it came together.
How did the defendants react to the decision from the prosecutor’s office?
Like us, with cautious optimism. We’re glad that the Prosecutor General’s Office has supported us, but the charges haven’t been dropped. We expect the Investigative Committee to try to get out of this situation somehow. They didn’t spend a year and a half investigating this case under Article 105 for nothing, after all.
I don’t know how much you can say about this, but what is the sisters’ life like now?
Like last year, they’re living in separate apartments. They can’t communicate with one another because of a court order. They can only communicate with people who aren’t involved in the process. There’s also a ban on using the Internet or any mass media. Essentially, they’re waiting to see how all this ends.
The case has been ongoing for some time. Is anybody helping them financially?
Yes, their relatives and sympathizers have provided help.
In addition to the protests supporting the sisters, there were also numerous demonstrations against them. It seems that there were even threats made against them. What’s the situation like at this point?
It’s clamed down. I haven’t heard about a demonstration against the sisters in a long time. As far as I know, those protests were planned by the victim’s side — that is, the father’s family — in response to the protests supporting the sisters. But that was a one-time situation. We haven’t been getting any threats, either.
And do you think the protests in support of the sisters could have affected the prosecutors’ position?
I think that might have played some role, but not in this decision. It might have played a role in having a thorough, attentive approach to the circumstances of the case. There are experienced people in the Prosecutor General’s Office, and naturally, they wouldn’t just side with anybody who goes out into the streets and asks for something. But it likely had a tangential impact. We often encounter situations where nobody listens to the attorneys, but in this case, our position was treated very attentively.
Could this stance from the prosecutors serve as a precedent for other cases involving domestic violence and self-defense?
I think it could become a precedent in the sense that people will pay more and closer attention in terms of applying the necessary self-defense statute. Maybe legal practices will shift. But every case stands alone, and the approach to every case should depend on the circumstances.
Another parallel story to this has been the discussion surrounding a potential domestic violence law. Do you think that might have affected the prosecutors’ position?
Again, only in terms of closer attention to the case. These are parallel issues in that the Prosecutor General’s Office looks at what is in the case — what kind of evidence and so on. It could never be the case that the Khachaturyan sisters have to be acquitted because a domestic violence law is under consideration here.
So you don’t think this prosecutorial decision was political?
I want to believe that the Prosecutor General’s Office delved into the case. I want to believe that the people working there are professionals, and they see that there’s no Article 105 involved here. I would not want to think this was a political decision. And who would that kind of decision help in this case, anyway? I don’t see anyone.
If you set aside all external circumstances and look at the case from a purely legal perspective, then is the most probable outcome at this point closing the case?
Yes, because the investigators can’t bring the case to court to be considered on its merits without prosecutorial support. They have two options: try to change the prosecutors’ minds — but it’s not clear how they would — or comply and drop the charges.
Translation by Hilah Kohen