MOSCOW — Defense lawyers in the trial of three men charged in the killing of Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya said Monday that prosecutors' evidence is insufficient.
Prosecutors called two friends of the accused Monday who gave evidence about cell phones the suspects allegedly used to call each other on the day of the Kremlin critic's killing: Oct. 7, 2006. The friends testified that telephone numbers to be presented as evidence the suspects called each other did in fact belong to them.
Politkovskaya wrote articles highlighting torture in Chechnya and alleging Kremlin complicity. Her killing caused international outrage and sparked speculation in the West that the government might have been involved.
Defense lawyers Said Arsanezayev and Murad Musayev said after Monday's hearing that the phone records are inconclusive and that the indictment contains no convincing evidence.
"It's all they have. They have nothing else, " Musayev said.
Prosecutors were not available for comment. They began making their case last week in the trial at Moscow's main military court and do not appear close to the end of their arguments.
The three men being tried on murder charges are former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, all accused of helping set up Politkovskaya's killing. Authorities say the man accused of shooting her — the Makhmudovs' brother Rustam — has fled the country.
According to the indictment, records from the Megafon mobile carrier show that calls were made on the day of the murder before and after between two numbers, lawyers said. Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov confirmed in court Monday that they had used phones with those numbers during October 2006.
But, their lawyers say, they can't remember whether they called each other — or even whether the phones were in their possession — on the day of the killing.
" (Investigators) say that straight after the murder Dzhabrail called on the mobile phone to Ibragim and said, 'That's it, the job's done, you can leave. ' But the investigator didn't witness the call, and it wasn't recorded, " said Arsanezayev, Ibragim Mukhmadov's lawyer. «Couldn't Dzhabrail have called his brother and simply asked him what he was up to that evening? Or talked about the weather?»
Defense lawyers said the records also show that a person making a call from one number, which Dzhabrail Makhmudov said in court he used around that time, was within 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) of the crime scene — Politkovskaya's Moscow apartment building — when the calls in question were made.
"It doesn't mean that the phone was being used by him. It is not proof, " Arsanezayev said.
The suspects deny involvement, saying they don't remember what they were doing that day.
Politkovskaya's family and colleagues say the trial has been marred from the start by the absence of the suspected gunman and the fact that authorities have not determined who was behind Politkovskaya's killing — a crucial question in the politically charged case.
Musayev said Monday that the defendants should not be charged with murder because they are not accused of pulling the trigger. «It's an outright violation, » he said.
Russia maintains a moratorium on the death penalty, and the defendants could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
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