An Armenian army soldier was sentenced to 17 years in prison on Friday for shooting to death one comrade and seriously wounding another in disputed circumstances in May last year.
A court in Armenia’s Tavush province, where the three soldiers served, backed military prosecutors’ claims that Davit Khachatrian fired gunshot at Lyuks Stepanian after being verbally abused by the latter. The third conscript, Hrachya Sargsian, was accidentally hit in the head by the same bullet, according to the prosecution.
The incident had a big resonance, with furious relatives of Stepanian turning his funeral into a protest against the Armenian army command. Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian personally assured them that the young man’s death will be thoroughly investigated. Six senior officers from Stepanian’s regiment, including its two deputy commanders and chief of staff, were sacked in the following weeks.
Khachatrian pleaded not guilty to the murder accusations during the trial. “I’m not a murderer,” he told the presiding judge before the announcement of the verdict.
Khachatrian insisted that he never argued with Stepanian and opened fire by accident. He said the dead soldier was his friend. Some of the other soldiers who witnessed the shooting backed this version of events in the court.
Khachatrian’s lawyers said they will appeal against the ruling. They said their client should have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, rather than murder, and given a shorter sentence.
Stepanian’s relatives were also not satisfied with the punishment. They said the defendant deserved life imprisonment.