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 September 5 , 2003 


Naghdalyan Case, Session Four: Defendant says accused killer had no gun skills


In a new courtroom where the accused does not get caged, John Harutyunyan (black shirt) stood to plead his case.

The trial of murdered journalist Tigran Naghdalyan resumed Tuesday, with defendant John Harutyunyan again denying that Armen Sargsyan had anything to do with Harutyunyan's killing of Naghdalyan.

Harutyunyan, 32, of Martuni Karabakh was arrested February 27 for illegal possession of a firearm. On March 2 he confessed that he had murdered Naghdalyan and signed a statement.

But in court Tuesday, Harutyunyan said his written confession was a lie.

"I said 'Ok, if I'm already here then I'll do the time for the both crimes'," explained John Harutyunyan answering the question asked by lawyer Robert Grigoryan.

The penalty for the gun-possession charge is imprisonment of up to three years. Grigoryan asked Harutyunyan if he was aware that murder carried a death penalty. Harutyunyan did not answer.

(Veteran television journalist Naghdalyan was shot to death last December 28 outside his parents' home in Yerevan. At the time of his death he was chairman of the board of directors of the Public Television and Radio of Armenia, a post appointed by President Robert Kocharyan.)

A defendant facing conspiracy charges, Felix Arustamyan, testified that he and Harutyunyan was offered money to take the blame for Naghdalyan's death.

"John assumes responsibility for murder because we were promised that if we (confessed to the crime) then we would get $250,000," Arustamyan said. "And after doing time in jail for eight years we would get released."

Arustamyan, 28, further commented on the unlikelihood of Hartunyunyan's guilt, based on the accused killer's gunmanship.

"He even doesn't know how to shoot," Arustamyan said. "We have been hunting together for five years and I know his skills." (Naghdalyan was killed by a single shot to the head fired at close range from a "TT" pistol.)

Among 13 defendants charged with complicity in the crime is Armen Sargsyan, brother of slain Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan, one of the victims of the October 1999 killings in Parliament.

Armen Sargsyan is accused of having ordered Naghdalyan's death and allegedly offering $75,000 to have the murder carried out.

At the beginning of the court session a video tape of Harutyunyan's interrogation was shown, in response to a motion by Grigoryan, Armen Sargsyan's attorney.

On the tape, Harutyunyan is heard admitting that he killed Naghdalyan.

Harutyunyan concedes that he confessed to the murder. But he denies the content of a written statement he signed, which says claiming that he was hired by Sargsyan to kill Naghdlayan.

"Whatever I had written during the investigation is a lie," Harutyunyan said several times during the session. "But I insist that video tape tells the truth and whatever I was saying there is truth as well. But I reject my written testimonies."

In the videotape, investigators mention the Sargsyan family and question whether Harutyunyan had been associated with them. His answers were vague.

But during the preliminary investigation in Stepanakert, he told detectives that Gegham Shahbazyan said that Sargsyan had ordered Naghdalyan's murder, and that the journalist be killed before the end of last year.

In court Tuesday Grigoryan asked Harutyunyan: "Who was the person who provided you with information on Naghdalyan's murder?"

Harutyunyan: "I don't know Armen Sargsyan; I was not acquainted with him. I had a conversation with Gegham Shahbazyan." (Click here for a previous story outlining the details of that meeting.)

Grigoryan: "Why have you committed the crime?"

Harutyunyan: "I don't know."

Grigoryan: "What do you know about the crime?"

Harutyunyan: "I don't remember."

Grigoryan: "Who ordered the murder?"

Harutyunyan: "I have no idea."

Grigoryan: "Who was to give you money after the crime?"

Harutyunyan: "Gegham Shahbazyan."


Armen Sargsyan's attorney says the case lacks grounds, on the basis that there is no documentation of the investigation of Harutyunyan in Karabakh.

John Harutyunyan also stated that before being brought to Yerevan he was beaten by investigators in Karabakh. He said he expected the same treatment in Yerevan and that is why he signed a confession.

Arustamyan, who is accused of assisting the murder, rejected written statements attributed to him and used as evidence from the preliminary investigation, saying that he cannot read or write in Armenian.

According to the prosecution, that the motive for Naghdalyan's murder was revenge by Armen Sargsyan because he believed Naghdalyan was somehow connected to the parliament killings.

"Everything that I've written about revenge is a lie. What revenge can there be? Gegham ordered the murder," he said.

Arustamyan said that Gegham Shahbazyan promised $30,000 and later $50,000 for the murder. However 10 days before the murder Gegham said that Liova Harutyunyan (Armen Sargsyan's god-child, and who allegedly was to deliver the money) had refused to take part in this case.

According to Arustamyan, Shahbazyan said: "Go and kill him. After the murder I know how to get money. There is a man, who will visit Liova's godfather (Armen Sargsyan) and that man knows what to tell him to get money from him."

Apparently surprised by Arustamyan's testimony, Armen Sargsyan's lawyers asked Judge Saro Aramyan for a recess.

Court resumed on Friday in a circus atmosphere created when Arustamyan refused to answer the prosecution's question because he said he wanted an attorney not appointed by the State.

What disrupted court, however, was when Arustamyan said he wanted to be represented by Hovik Arsenyan, an attorney from Armen Sargsyan's defense team.

After a half-hour animated discussion between the prosecution and the defense, the judge called for a recess. After another half hour, court resumed with Arsenyan saying there were obvious reasons why he could not represent both Armen Sargsyan and Arustamyan.

The trial is expected to resume Tuesday.

*

This week the trial was moved to the Court of First Instance of Avan and Nork communities. It is the second could building reconstructed by World Bank financing, and the second to dispense with using cages for holding defendants.



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