In­no­cent Man Spends 7 Years In Prison

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY SVIT­LANA TUCHYNSKA

When the prison guards came to tell Maksym Dmytrenko that he would be re­leased af­ter seven years in prison, he at first didn’t be­lieve them.

“When they came to my cell and told me to get my bag, I asked where they were tak­ing me. For the first five days af­ter jail I was so numb I did not re­al­ize what was hap­pen­ing,” Dmytrenko told Kyiv Post by tele­phone.

The 36-year-old is one of six peo­ple wrongly con­victed of mur­ders that the so-called “Polohy maniac” Ser­hiy Tkach later con­fessed to.

In a cat­a­logue of fail­ures, bu­reau­cratic fum­bling and al­leged le­gal vi­o­la­tions by law en­force­ment and prose­cu­tors, Dmytrenko even re­mained in prison for six years af­ter Tkach con­fessed in 2005.

The in­no­cent man was fi­nally re­leased on March 22.

The case of Dmytrenko’s need­less suf­fer­ing shines a harsh light on Ukraine’s cru­elly dys­func­tional law en­force­ment and ju­di­cial sys­tems, which crit­ics say are fo­cused on achiev­ing con­vic­tions re­gard­less of ev­i­dence.

Dmytrenko’s or­deal be­gan on Sept. 29, 2004, when he was drink­ing beer in a lo­cal bar in Polohy in Za­por­izhia Oblast in east­ern Ukraine on the

night the body of a girl, Svit­lana Starostina, was found nearby. The 17-yearold had been raped and mur­dered.

The next day, Dmytrenko, who had re­cently re­turned from army ser­vice af­ter qual­i­fy­ing as a train driver, was ar­rested along with an­other man. The sec­ond sus­pect, ac­cord­ing to Dmytrenko, had a heart at­tack af­ter ques­tion­ing and was taken to hospi­tal. “So there was only me left,” he said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors were de­ter­mined to force a con­fes­sion from him by what­ever means nec­es­sary, he said.

“They do not even have to beat you hard as they have other means. One of them put a gas mask on my face and didn’t let me take it off for days,” Dmytrenko said, speak­ing qui­etly as if he was afraid some­body would hear.

“Then they brought me to a pros­e­cu­tor who asked me if I did it. I said no, which was my big mis­take as the po­lice took me back to my cell for more tor­ture un­til I told the pros­e­cu­tor that I did it,” he said.

In April 2005, a court sen­tenced him to 13 years in jail for Starostina’s rape and mur­der.

Later that year, the “Polohy maniac” Tkach con­fessed to more than 100 mur­ders of women, in­clud­ing that of Starostina. Ana­toliy Shaida, a se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the gen­eral pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, said Tkach gave all the de­tails of each mur­der, leav­ing no room for doubt that he was re­spon­si­ble.

Nev­er­the­less, prose­cu­tors at first re­fused to send Dmytrenko’s case back to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, be­fore even­tu­ally agree­ing in 2008.

Still, Dmytrenko had to wait more than three years to be re­leased.

“The pro­ce­dure is complicate­d as years passed since the crime, and it is harder to gather ev­i­dence. Also, af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion we sent the case to the High Spe­cial­ized Court of Ukraine which rules on re­lease,” said Larysa Mile­vich, a spokes­woman for the gen­eral pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice.

Even af­ter Tkach was sen­tenced to life in jail in De­cem­ber 2008 on 29 counts of mur­der, in­clud­ing that of Starostina, Dmytrenko re­mained in jail.

Other cases

Dmyternko isn’t the only in­no­cent man to have been wrongly pun­ished for crimes com­mit­ted by Tkach.

Vi­taliy Kaira was jailed for five years, Mykola Dem­chuk for five years, Yakiv Popovych – then 14 years old – for eight years, Mykola Marusenko for three years and Ser­hiy Kor­shun for 15 years. They have all since been re­leased.

Volodymyr Svit­ly­chny, who was de­tained in 1989 for rap­ing and killing his daugh­ter, hanged him­self in his cell be­fore the trial. Tkach was later con­victed of the rape and mur­der.

Pros­e­cu­tor Shaida said these peo­ple were all tor­tured and forced to con­fess to crimes they did not com­mit.

Most of them have gone to court in search of com­pen­sa­tion, so far un­suc­cess­ful. Dmytrenko is also pre­par­ing to sue the state for mil­lions of hryv­nias.

But get­ting com­pen­sa­tion is dif­fi­cult, as one of the re­leased men, Vi­taliy Kaira, knows.

Re­leased from prison four years ago, he has been try­ing to get his Hr 2.5 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion since.

“The court says I have to prove I have suf­fered, which is out­ra­geous,” Kaira said by tele­phone. “Be­fore prison I was a mar­ried man with a lit­tle daugh­ter and a job. Dur­ing my prison term my wife left me and re­mar­ried, and I have not been able to find a job since I was re­leased. I have lost five years of my life.”

On April 3, three po­lice­men who tor­tured Kaira into con­fess­ing were found guilty of forg­ing a crim­i­nal case, psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal tor­ture and ex­ceed­ing their au­thor­ity.

They all re­ceived sus­pended sen- tences of three years and were fired from the po­lice.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­lice­men in Polohy who al­legedly tor­tured Dmytrenko is on­go­ing.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say Ukrainian the law en­force­ment and jus­tice sys­tems strive for quan­tity, not qual­ity in solv­ing crimes. The con­vic­tion rate is at least twice as high as in de­vel­oped na­tions, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions.

‘Just forge ev­i­dence’

“Ev­ery po­lice­man has to solve two to five crimes per month. There are cases when po­lice­men were fired for not ful­fill­ing this plan. Also, they have very small ba­sic salaries and re­ceive ad­di­tional pay­ments if their suc­cess rate is good enough,” said Yevhen Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Hu­man Rights Group. “So of­ten they just forge ev­i­dence and get any­one ar­rested.”

An­other prob­lem, crit­ics say, is that courts in Ukraine usu­ally side with prose­cu­tors and rarely find peo­ple not guilty of com­mit­ting se­ri­ous crimes like mur­der. Ac­cord­ing to Kharkiv Hu­man Rights Group, only 100 peo­ple were found in­no­cent out of 150,000 cases heard in courts in 2011.

Po­lice deny hav­ing any re­quired rate for solv­ing crimes, but ad­mit the suc­cess rate is “very high” when it comes to se­ri­ous crimes.

“In the first three months of 2012, we had 641 mur­ders, 584 of which were solved and 637 peo­ple were es­tab­lished as mur­der­ers. But this is due to a fact that vast ma­jor­ity of mur­ders hap­pen be­tween friends or fam­ily when peo­ple drink. So usu­ally it is quite ev­i­dent who did it,” said Volodymyr Pol­ishchuk, a spokesman for the In­te­rior Min­istry.

Maksym Dmytrenko is re­cov­er­ing from his seven-year or­deal at home with his mother in Polohy. He is about to start a new job and says it seems he is get­ting his life back on track.

But he doesn’t be­lieve he will get any money in com­pen­sa­tion for his suf­fer­ing.

“You know how it is in this coun­try,” he said. “You never know what will hap­pen next. So I’d bet­ter just go on with my life not ex­pect­ing any­thing at all for now.”

Kyiv Post staff writer Svit­lana Tuchynska can be reached at [email protected]

Maksym Dmytrenko af­ter meet­ing with the Za­por­izhia Oblast gov­er­nor on March 27 upon his re­lease from prison, where he spent seven years for a mur­der he did not com­mit. (UNIAN)

Con­victed se­rial killer Ser­hiy Tkach in Dnipropetr­o­vsk in 2008. He was found to have mur­dered women in Dnipropetr­o­vsk and Za­por­izhia for 25 years be­fore his ar­rest in 2005. How­ever, at least six in­no­cent peo­ple were con­victed of some of the mur­ders...

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