This is an interview with Ruslan Moshkovsky, Anatoly Onoprienko’s defense lawyer. The author of the interview published on January 10, 2006, is Tatyana Nikulenko.
– There’re 52 ruined lives in Onoprienko’s bloody book so you probably find it quite unpleasant to go down in history as the maniac’s defense lawyer. Could you turn down that unrewarding mission?
– When an Article of the Criminal Code provides extreme penalty, participation of a defense lawyer in a trial procedure is obligatory under the law. If the defendant is in a low income bracket as in the case with Onoprienko and can’t pay bills, the state provides him with a defense lawyer. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re willing or not; you can also be compelled. Will you start haggling?
– But why did the lot fall upon you?
– You’d rather ask the people who appointed me about it. That time Stepan Mikhailovich Beletsky was in charge of the Criminal division of the Zhytomyr Regional Court, he had been holding that position for 25 years. He perfectly knew all legal personnel, lawyers, judges, and I don’t know why he offered me as a candidate.
– Were you aware of what sheer amount of work you were getting down to?
– Although there had been something written about Onoprienko, everything was somehow lost on me. For the first time I’d been faced with it only in the chambers of judge Dmitry Lipsky who chaired the trial. I asked him, “Let me please review the case.” He said, “Take and read it,” and pointed out at the corner in which there was a meter by meter pile on the floor. It contained 100 bundles; each of them had 250–300 pages! I stopped dead in my tracks.
– And did you read all from cover to cover?
– It was physically impossible to read them, and there was no point in it. To grasp the taste of beetroot soup, you don’t need to eat up a panful of it. I’m not a biologist, microbiologist or doctor to go into details of a 5–6 page examination report. I got generally acquainted with the experts’ conclusions.
– Anyway, Western lawyers get the name thanks to such high-profile cases. This is publicity, what you might now call PR.
– My coworkers didn’t even have such an idea that I had any interest in it. The lawyers of Zhytomyr had long record of service and treated me even compassionately. If we also take into account that the trial had been holding for four months, and according to the state rate we earned peanuts – 17 hryvnias a day before tax.
I did my work and tried to forget about it as it was hard to look back. Try to understand, I didn’t feel sorry for Onoprienko, I supported the people affected, but not him, nevertheless I did my professional duty. I was grieved as some people could identify me with my defendant who had caused a great deal of sorrow to them. Well, I didn’t get offended even if somebody thought bad things of me. I hope to God, nobody will be among those who have been bereaved of a son, a daughter, grandchildren, all relatives. The grief of this loss is enormous and irreparable.
– As far as I can see, you opened the first bundle and what you saw made your hair stand on end, right?
– Many lawyers – I believe this is the right way – start with a letter of accusation. I looked through it (it consisted of two bundles) and realized I had to talk to the defendant. Onoprienko was serving time in prison in Zhytomyr. A short, skinny and plain man was brought to me. His stocking cap was the easiest stuff to remember about his looks. But his voice sounded confident. He always knew what he wanted and followed his own way.
– What could you talk in private with a maniac about?
– This question is hard to reply as there’s such a term as attorney-client privilege. I was more listening to his stories of a hero about the journeys around Europe. In 1989 he committed several murders and skipped across abroad where Onoprienko had been hanging around for five years. He’d twice been expelled. So he pictured out how he’d been playing the Germans off, nearly joined the French Foreign Legion, happened to turn out to be in a calaboose in Germany.
At first my defendant took little interest in the oncoming trial, he said, he had the only one end – death penalty. Yet I explained to him that in principal it wasn’t so. I said, “The issue about the abolition of capital punishment is being decided (at that time it wasn’t abolished yet, but the moratorium on execution had already been passed). Ukraine is striving for Europe so you’ll scarcely be put to death.”
– Did you feel disgusting?
– You know, the lawyer has to cast away emotions like, let’s say, the surgeon who has a thug brought to be operated on. He won’t sort out who is on the operating table, but will first take a scalpel. So I was thinking only about doing my work as far as I had enough smarts and skills.
It’s not a secret that there were times when I came to a temporary detention facility, and heard inhuman screams resounding from rooms as if I were in Gestapo. That’s why any defense lawyer starts the work with his defendant first of all with trying to find out whether this investigation is a blind, and the defendant was just forced to take another person’s blame upon him. And I asked Onoprienko straight out, “Say honestly, has any violence been used against you?” He replied and quite convincingly, “Nobody has laid a finger on me.”
– Oh, my gosh! Not all were so lucky! I remember within three weeks before his arrest in Lviv Oblast (region) brave policemen harrying to death 29-year-old Yuri Mozolu, on whom they were trying to pin Onoprienko’s sins.
– Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only case. There was an episode in the case when Onoprienko and his accomplice shot the Vasilyukis dead, a polish family (they were going in their car to either Dnepropetrovsk or Zaporozhia to see somebody and made an overnight stop by the side of the road near Korts in Rivne Oblast).
The murders took their petty catch and burnt the car with the bodies… Since the foreigners suffered and the investigation was brought under special control, the police got down to it eagerly. Two drug takers, a man and a woman, were arrested hot on the track. Those unfortunate people were being “talked into” the necessity of confession so carefully that one of them seemingly hanged in a prison and the second passed away in a hospital. There were nobody left to try, but it was possible to report to Warsaw that the crime had been solved. There were also orders enclosed to the case materials about giving successive titles. The especially distinguished officers were commissioned as a colonel and so on…
This machinery of government is surely hard to resist. And any lawyer tries to find out whether his defendant has taken another person’s blame or incriminated himself under the threat of punishment. For several years since April 16, 1996, when Onoprienko was detained until the middle of 1998 he had been under investigation. Whoever had worked with him within that period… Several times I had asked him, “There’s a large number of materials and a lot of episodes. Say exactly, where you feel any injustice. You mightn’t have committed any of the crimes, might you? Did the police put anything down to you?” He replied,
“Ruslan Ivanovich, everything I’ve been accused of is mine. These hands’re steeped in blood up to the elbows.”
Frankly speaking, the defendant relieved my task very much. He would confess to everything and give evidence willingly. There wasn’t all in all any necessity of physical coercion. I was falling under the impression that Onoprienko regarded his evil deeds as awards for which he almost gave credit to himself. He would say over and over again, “Yes, I killed and will kill.” He seemed to have deliberately horrified the public trying to suggest the idea that a sane person wasn’t able to do such deeds. He wanted people to think, “Look, he’s just a fool. Crazy in the head. Who’s being tried?”
And it did take effect. In one-on-one talks even my coworkers, law enforcement officers, expressed doubts about his mental health. However, I regarded his behavior as a sophisticated method of self-defense. And he defended himself quite skillfully and practically by using any bare possibility. It was obvious that by nature he had animal instinct and smarts.
– Did anybody visit him in the prison?
– Oh, don’t say that! Anna Kozak with whom he had lived together the recent time didn’t come to the court. As for the woman who had given birth to his son, Onoprienko had parted with her long before his arrest. According to her words he was quiet, sober-minded and profound.
– To come into contact with defendants, lawyers usually try to give them a treat, sweeten their prison ration. And you?
– I’ve never practiced such stuff, but in that case I also took a couple of sweets and a pack of cigarettes along with me. I’d surely obtained approval not to have any excessive questions to me later. Onoprienko chuckled, “I don’t smoke,” but he kept the pack to himself in memory of our acquaintance as he said. I managed to come into a business contact with him without any charity, but as the result of our long face-to-face talks. Nobody disturbed us and limited our time. Afterwards I heard him cadging from all, particularly from journalists, “Do you want an interview? Give this, another, the other.” But he didn’t even hint at anything from me, kept his upper lip stiff.
The investigation was conducted at the highest level. There was a lot of evidence on practically each out of over 30 episodes collected, all conceivable expert examinations were performed. Ivan Stepanovich Dovbyshchyk was in charge of the investigation team that consisted of 30 people. In my time I’d worked with him in a prosecutor’s office, we used to be in next door rooms. I thought, “My goodness! Our people are in good standing in the General Prosecutor’s Office.”
– What defensive tactics did you choose?
– I was not going to drag out the trial with unnecessary questions and requests or to work to the crowd. But I was worried about my summing-up speech. What to say in it? Nevertheless, the case would sooner or later be over… What in general could I say in defense of the man who had committed such grave crimes? It was of little interest to me whether he had good references, his childhood used to be hard or other so-called mitigating circumstances. It couldn’t in the slightest degree justify his evil deeds. I saw unfortunate affected people standing around the court house. I saw their eyes and the glances of those who came to the trial. And I was bound to say something that could make people think hard.
In my opinion, first of all it was necessary to reply to the question why Onoprienko hadn’t been stopped and detained in time? We have such a powerful operational and investigative administration, and Onoprienko in fact started his bloody harvest in the time of the Soviet Union. I couldn’t constantly get past the idea where law machinery had faltered, why it had allowed so many victims.
When you work at a major case, you keep thinking about it day and night, something providential gives you a reply, a key to the puzzle. There was abundance of documents: multiply 250–300 pages by 100. And I came across an episode. A quarter of the case, 25 bundels, was connected with it. That was the murder of a family. In 1989 they were coming back from their vacation and stopped overnight in wooded area near Vasilyevka in Zaporozhia Oblast. Onoprienko and his accomplice Rogozin came across the sleeping people. They shot all of them including two children dead and burnt their car. Towards morning local shepherds found charred remains.
– So far as I recall, that was not the most terrible episode in the case, and the press turned its back on it.
– And it was wrong. That time the police got the lay of the land very fast. They traced back the car in which the murderers had come there, it was a lada car № 9, and started the search for them. By evening the field investigators had already received reliable data about those whom they had to detain, but they just missed Onoprienko. He managed to fling the pursuit. Serious forces were deployed to investigate the case. No wonder who was checked first. For sure, those who had been previously convicted, mixed up with something or inclined to crime. The circle was shrinking, and the investigators came close to Rogozin and Onoprienko… And all of a sudden everything stopped short.
– But how come?
– You should ask the executive staff of the Zaporozhia police in Regional prosecutor’s office. By means of analysis and comparison (but it’s my subjective opinion) I arrived at a conclusion that Onoprienko had intentionally been allowed to go unpunished when he was actually hanging by a single thread. During the interrogation Rogozin at first denied driving the red lada car № 9, but then confessed that in that evening he had been with his buddy Onoprienko who had a caliper 12 rifle registered in Vasilyevka. It was equipped with a night firing device. Then all the hunters in the region were dressed down, and a score of people were interrogated.
So the field investigators of law enforcement agencies worked out fine and did their duty. Yet when they got at the murderers and there was only one step left to take, something stood in their way. They didn’t simply “see right to question Onoprienko.” Covering up traces, he moved to Odessa. His hunting case was sent behind. It got lost somewhere, vanished, merely melt into the air. The investigation team of the General prosecutor’s office found out that there had been a note made in pencil in the police registration book, “Onoprienko’s hunting case was sent on October 4, 1989.” And some years later when the police officers were questioned, it was impossible to clarify anything.
Even today we don’t know anything about a shady person who obstructed justice and allowed the criminal to avoid the responsibility. Galiakbarov, an academic and my professor of criminal law in Sverdlovsk Law Institute, said, “Each crime remained unpunished gives rise to new offences.” The person isn’t any more held back by the thought about unavoidability of punishment. After the criminal had come to believe that he was elusive, he got more insolent and acted a lot more recklessly.
It sounds as if Onoprienko himself didn’t expect him to get away with it so long. After he had committed nine murderers in 1989, he set out abroad. Onoprienko thought he was chasing by law enforcement officers that’s why when he had been expelled from Europe for the first time in 1992, he arrived in Kiev and instead of going to see his relatives or acquaintances at once that cunning fellow decided to play the part of a mentally disturbed person. The whole day he had been standing in Boryspil Airport with his leg lifted until the police paid attention to him.
What an artist! When Onoprienko checked into a psychiatric hospital in Kiev, he behaved faultlessly, helped the staff although at the same time robbed an apartment in that city. And after all he managed to make a fool of doctors; they made his diagnosis and kept a file on him…
– Why don’t you believe in his mental disorder?
– There was a repeated expert examination carried out during the trial. Under the decision of court Andrei Tsubera, a holder of Doctorate Degree in Medicine, came to Zhytomyr from Pavlovka hospital. He asked Onoprienko questions directly at trial. The psychiatrist came to a firm conclusion that the defendant was healthy, and all that was malingering so there wasn’t any point in sending him to Pavlovka for compulsory medical treatment or new checkup…
Onoprienko was quite careful to get an inquiry and go for a wander around Europe for a second time. Only after he had made completely sure that his wounds had healed up, and all had quieted down, he went to his cousin who was doing military service in Yavorov in Lviv Oblast. And soon Ukraine was startled at the killing spree in the village of Bratkovichi near the town of Malin in Zhytomyr Oblast. From December 1995 to April 16, 1996, when he was detained Onoprienko had committed 43 murders altogether. He killed old men, women and children – all at random. There was even 10-month old baby among the victims. For God’s sake, that monster had been stopped before he could start his third circle.
He told he had an order given from on high to kill 360 people. He heard a voice. Those stories were definitely a gallery play. Onoprienko would have gone on with his dirty deeds as he came to believe in his impunity, but not because something seemed to him.
– There were rumors that he was sort of good at hypnosis and mystical capabilities. Due to them he hadn’t allegedly been caught long although ten thousands policemen, internal military forces, even armored vehicles were deployed, and posts by each bush were put out. Is that true?
– Rubbish! He was just a cunning and prudent person, an excellent judge of character. He was hard to capture as he then started acting alone without any accomplices. And he didn’t rob banks or tough and rich people. Like a butcher, he killed defenseless and poor people. Onoprienko chose his victims on village edges where there wasn’t any phone, and a car could hardly get by. If anybody could hear a shot there how to call without a phone and to cry we were being killed or somebody was shooting.
Whatever they said, if Onoprienko had stopped and tunneled again, he mightn’t have caught so far. Although he went absolutely crazy because of the smell of blood and kept killing in Bratkovichi in Lviv Oblast right and left, he was detained by chance when sleepy Onoprienko in trunks answered the door and thought his live-in girlfriend had come back…
The first record had one page. When he had been interrogated the second and third time, the police brass turned up. There were more and more of them each time, and their ranks were becoming much higher and higher. Onoprienko then said scornfully something like that, “You’ve already found, right? Why are you putting on an act here? Wasn’t it already then in 1989 clear who and what?” When I came across this quotation in one of the last bundles, I got shocked.
– Did you ask Onoprienko how he managed to shake the Zaporozhia police which simply shadowed him?
– No, I didn’t. First, it wasn’t within my competence, and second, he wasn’t a fool to tell such stuff. I could only suggest how it had all been going on. Vasilyevka was a small regional center where everybody knew each other. Sergey Rogozin the investigators picked up was a known and respected man in good standing. After all, the chairman of the Afghan War veterans community. He was also good-looking, strong and courageous. Nobody could have suspected such a boon companion of anything…The record of his interrogation came down to some sentences whereas records of others covered by 25 pages. Remember that there were 25 bundles collected.
By the way, at trial Rogozin didn’t confess to three episodes incriminated to him. He kept saying that he had been afraid of Onoprienko who had dominated him.
– How did such a slob manage to dominate a tough Afghan War veteran?
– Well, in Rogozin’s words, it turned out to be so. You can believe him or not. But they had committed nine murders together.
– It amounted to life sentence, didn’t it?
– Perhaps, but the state prosecutor asked 15 years for him. The court gave even less, only 13.
– And Supreme Court reduced that, in my opinion, quite mild sentence to 12 years. How do you think why?
– I find it unethical to talk about it; you’d rather refer to Rogozin’s defense lawyer to explain it.
– The printed press wrote that your colleague had worked very well during the trial.
– To my mind, first of all, the client estimates the lawyer’s work. His opinion is the most important. I’ll keep my point of view to myself. When the sentence has come into effect, it’s not being discussed, but fulfilled regardless of whether you like it or not.
– Might Rogozin have cooperated with the investigators?
– If he’d cooperated, Onoprienko would’ve been detained before he committed 52 murders. Yet that reputable family man kept silent as he realized if his crony got caught, he would be next.
– Now Rogozin is serving term in a high-security prison in Nikolayevsk Oblast. I read somewhere that his elderly parents complained that they had difficulty in going to see him and it was hard to raise two grandchildren. However, there is little time left to hold out. In two years’ time Onoprienko’s accomplice will be released.
– I didn’t defend him and didn’t socialize with him (only within the trial). On the whole, I fell under quite a good impression of this man. I hope he repents of his weakness and of not stopping the murderer. It’s another matter how he will live with this past out of prison. In particular, in the context of moral!
Please note, when Onoprienko was taking the stand at trial, he didn’t say, “Yes, Rogozin shot living people together with me.” He didn’t start setting up his crony on “I’m drowning and bear-leading him” basis, on the contrary, to the best of his ability tried to justify him. Why? Because he realized that Rogozin was the only person he could count on in the long view. That time he already made a rough estimation that his accomplice would be outside earlier, and hoped for some help. It was the only right attitude for my defendant who struggled for life to the last breath.
I’m led to believe that everything wasn’t quite so as it was presented to the investigators and court by the convicts. I suppose Rogozin could have told a lot about the events of 1989. And in connection with the Vasilyevka case, which wasn’t for unexplained reasons set moving, a lot of questions emerge.
– Why didn’t you ask them during the trial of Onoprienko and his accomplice?
– The matter is that the materials of investigation were confidential. The details I’ve given became open only at trial when I told about them in my argument. Who’d had the access to the case before? Only the investigators, and investigation privilege is protected by law.
– Didn’t you have desire to get drunk to death when you were reading the most detailed description of the terrible crimes bundle after bundle?
– I’m not going to tell lies. When so much horror and blood falls upon you, your perception is getting dulled. Sure, if you try to grasp, you get sick at heart. It’s just impossible to imagine such things. One day Onoprienko told how he had shot in a child’s head. He even wondered, “The skull’s fallen, and the boy’s coming toward me. I’ve taken a shot once more.” And that wasn’t the only similar episode. I didn’t have desire, but got drunk.
You see, I felt all deeply. The investigators gathered evidence; the court had to check each charge count to prove his guilt. And absolutely different thoughts were running in my head. I was analyzing my defendant psychologically, trying to catch on his pattern of thoughts.
– Didn’t you ask why he had killed?
– I did. Onoprienko replied directly, “I wanted to earn money.” On graduation from nautical school he went to sea abroad, but was transferred to the reserve. The grounds? He was found to be dishonest and caught in petty thefts. Then he landed a job with a fire brigade, but didn’t stay long either. After he had circled the globe and had seen how people lived, he decided to become rich. Yet the largest sum of money he took from a victim was 1000 dollars. And in general there was pocket change. He used to reave people of their life for lipstick, cosmetics or a pair of boots. I remember his daughter-in-law telling with horror at trial, “I didn’t know that he had killed a person because of a bucket of herring he brought to us then.”
Afterwards I asked that woman how her relative had behaved at their place. She said, “When he stayed overnight, we switched on TV and got down to household chores. Do you know how Anatoly reacted strongly when he was watching a mass funeral in Bratkovichi, how he was boiling over that the villain hadn’t spared even children?” Could those people have suspected that he was directly relevant to those murders?
– Do you remember what you said in your summing-up speech?
– It’s not the kind of experience you can forget in a hurry. I complained that unrewarding work had fallen on me to defend a child killer, but somebody would have done it. If I hadn’t done, someone else would’ve done. Somebody could have succeeded in it a lot better, another one worse. I did my work according to my lights and in the way how I understood it. Along with that one question kept burning in my mind why it had happened so? Who was to blame? I’m strongly convinced that it’s the fault of those who didn’t bring the Vasilyevka episode to an end. As then Onoprienko was living there, was registered as a hunter, everybody knew him… The blame for 43 murders rests with those who dismissed that case.
– So does it with our glorious law enforcement authorities that six years later were distinguished during Onoprienko’s capture and received quite a number of awards and stars on their shoulder straps?
– You should remember the Soviet Union collapsing in that period; it wasn’t easy to realize what was going on in the country. Moreover, some difficult processes were happening: a new judicial and law enforcement system was getting on its feet…
– …Professionals scattered in the direction of private security services.
– I’d sooner say that rigid system of responsibility and inspections to which all had been accustomed throughout decades of the Soviet power ceased existing… I think if in that time it had still been strong, Onoprienko couldn’t have thrown aside all restraint. Sadly, at the end of 1980s senior executives in law enforcement agencies weaseled out of crime prevention and weren’t strictly liable for gross failures in their work.
– I would find it difficult to disagree with you. But why was your summing-up speech practically not highlighted if the trial was indeed the center of attention?
– I believe it was because of the fact that my speech revealed the system which was much guiltier than Onoprienko of what had happened, and I quite convincingly showed it. The court for which I had set out my position heard everything attentively. And during the recess Yuri Stepanovich Ignatyenko, a prosecutor, even came up to me excited and shook my hand as if he said he didn’t expect! A Russian newspaper gave the whole page spread to my speech and wrote that it could be used as a manual for students of law schools.
– And what was the reaction of the victims’ relatives?
– It was different. I would like to believe that they heard my arguments. I’ve emphasized once more, I wouldn’t like me to be identified with Onoprienko. It’s extremely wrong as the trial of the serial killer had to take place. And as a defense lawyer I was set an accurate task not to allow the innocent to be condemned and to show people why the tragedy became possible.
– Ruslan Ivanovich, when did you last see your ex-defendant Anatoly Onoprienko?
– During the adjudgement.
– What did you say farewell to him?
– Nothing, I turned round and went away. But he had tacked about several times during the trial. At first, he gave evidence, then required a lawyer from Moscow, some other celebrities, and finally ceased replying to the questions at all and retreated within himself, said all that was a performance. But it seems to me that Onoprienko just realized he could give up playing the fool as his technique didn’t work.
– Do you regret that death penalty was abolished in Ukraine?
– This is a philosophical question. This measure of punishment has a lot of supporters as well as detractors. Each of them puts forward his arguments and is right in his own way. But I’m personally against death penalty. Why? Because there’s always a chance left to rectify a juridical error (even if theoretically, but it’s possible).
As for the exact case… I reckon that extreme penalty for Onoprienko would have been a gift. The execution could have released him from a lot of moral and physical suffering. Imaging him being doomed of serving time in a solitary cell like a mouse in a jar until the very last day and waiting for seeds to nibble. It’s much harsher punishment for him than execution. What sweets of life are accessible to him? To my mind, there isn’t heavier punishment than deprivation of freedom. Every day he in fact suffers torments, moreover, he doesn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
– Can he, in your opinion, be released?
– The law provides him with an opportunity to plead pardon after a certain term of imprisonment…There must be hope left even for such a person. But I think whatever power would be in Ukraine, it won’t agree to mitigation of punishment.
By the way, in the words of corrections officers Onoprienko behaves well without any reprimands. So he’s serving time silent and waiting for his chance. He lays account that every day something can change in this life. And he shouldn’t be condemned for that. Even a serial killer loves life and hangs on for it to the last.
The source – newspaper “Gordon’s Bulvar”