Thu, Jan 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Chechens plead not guilty to US journalist's murder

AP , MOSCOW

Three ethnic Chechens charged in connection with the slaying of US journalist Paul Klebnikov pleaded not guilty on Tuesday as their trial began behind closed doors in the Moscow City Court.

Lawyers predicted an emotional and drawn-out trial, citing the more than 600-page criminal case and the suspects' repeated insistence that prosecutors have the wrong people.

Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes magazine's Russian edition, was gunned down outside the magazine's Moscow offices in July 2004 in one of the highest-profile slayings in Russia in recent years.

Prosecutors say the killing was ordered by Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a former separatist minister in Russia's conflict-torn Chechnya, who was the subject of a critical book by Klebnikov titled Conversations with a Barbarian. Nukhayev remains at large.

"Not one of the accused pleaded guilty ... all declared their innocence of all charges," said defense lawyer Ruslan Khasanov, who represents Kazbek Dukuzov, who is charged together with Musa Vakhayev with the actual shooting death of Klebnikov.

The third suspect, Fail Sadretdinov, faces charges of attempted murder and organizing the criminal group alleged to have killed Klebnikov. But his actual role remains unclear, and lawyers suggested that prosecutors mainly have accused Sadretdinov, a notary, of making introductions.

Defense lawyers and Larisa Masennikova, a lawyer who represents Klebnikov's family, said that Sadretdinov made an emotional outburst refuting the allegations against him.

"It is a very emotional atmosphere. They don't understand what they are accused of. They don't understand what is happening," Khasanov told reporters outside the court.

The court ordered the trial closed to the public and the media, saying that some of the trial materials that will be seen by the 12-person jury are secret.

The government has a 600-page case -- though defense lawyers showed reporters how chunks of the typewritten case were repeated -- and has suggested it might call around 150 witnesses. Prosecutors will begin presenting evidence on Tuesday, lawyers said.

"We have considerable hope that all the people who earlier gave evidence in this case will show up and give evidence again in front of the court," Maslennikova said earlier on Tuesday.

Maslennikova said her role would be to closely follow the evidence presented. She refused to speculate on where that would lead, but noted "if at the end the prosecutors' version isn't confirmed, of course, we'll say that."

She said that Klebnikov's brother, Michael, "believes in justice in Russia and is counting on common sense from the jury."

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