A court in Armenia has found a Russian soldier guilty of murdering a local family of seven, sentencing him to life imprisonment.
The high-profile trial of 19-year-old Valery Permyakov ended on Tuesday in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri where on January 12, 2015, six members of the Avetisian family were found dead in their house, including a two-year-old girl.
All the victims were shot to death. A six-month-old boy, who was stabbed with a bayonet, succumbed to his injuries in hospital a week later.
Permyakov, a conscript of the local Russian military base, was later detained near the Armenian-Turkish border and charged with committing the murders.
He pleaded guilty during the trial, but waived his right for a final statement in the courtroom before his verdict’s pronouncement.
In August 2015, a Russian military tribunal sentenced Permyakov to 10 years in maximum-security prison for desertion, theft of weapons and illegally carrying weapons. The Russian soldier’s main, Armenian trial on murder charges began in December 2015 in a makeshift courtroom built inside the Russian military headquarters in Gyumri.
After months of uncertainly, in June last year, Russia agreed to an Armenian trial of Permyakov, but the accused continued to be kept in Russian custody in the territory of the local garrison.
The issue of the jurisdiction of the Permyakov case led to mass protests in Gyumri and Yerevan in January 2015 as people demanded that the investigation and trial of Permyakov be conducted by Armenian authorities and under Armenian law.
During the trial itself lawyers representing relatives of the Avetisian family raised objections to the trial being held on the premises of the Russian military base, insisting that this was by itself a factor putting constraints on Armenian justice. But the judge dismissed the objection at the very beginning of the trial.
Lawyers also raised questions over a number of circumstances of the case which they claimed left room for suspicions that Permyakov may not have acted alone. No evidence to disprove the version of the events presented by the prosecutors was produced during the trial, however.
During the investigation and court proceedings the defendant said that he decided to desert his unit because he had grown homesick and wanted to reunite with his family living in a small town in eastern Siberia. He claimed to have planned to cross into Turkey with the aim of returning to Russia.
Permyakov also said in his pre-trial testimony that he randomly picked the house as he sought to get money and civilian clothes before crossing the frontier. He said he never intended to kill its inhabitants but somehow opened fire “out of fear”.
The court did not specify where Permyakov will serve his sentence. According to some Armenian media reports, Permyakov, who was found guilty of all charges against him -- including the murder of seven people, a robbery attack, and an attempt to illegally cross the border -- is likely to serve his sentence in a Russian prison rather than in an Armenian facility.
In June, an Armenian court rejected a case of relatives of the murdered family seeking 450,000 Euros ($500,000) in damages from Russia for its responsibility for the killings.