Tbilisi court partially acquits teenagers of fatal school stabbings

31 May 2018
People gathering at the Prosecutor’s Office where the father of murdered teenager Davit Saralidze is holding a demonstration (Tatia Khaliani /Liberali)

Tbilisi City Court has acquitted two teenagers of the murder of Davit Saralidze, one of the two teenagers killed in a school brawl in December. The court found one of the defendant’s guilty of killing the second victim, Levan Dadunashvili, while the other was found guilty of the attempted murder of Saralidze. The pair are to be sentenced on 1 June.

The 31 May verdict left open the question of who killed Saralidze, and the parents of the slain teenager protested in front of the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office demanding they continue to investigate the case and find those responsible for their son’s murder.

Immediately after the ruling was announced, Zaza Saralidze, Davit Saralidze’s father, demanded the resignation of Prosecutor General Irakli Shotadze. He began holding a demonstration at the Prosecutor’s Office where he was offered a meeting with Shotadze, but turned this down. He called on society to gather and stand with him outside the Prosecutor’s Office at 19:00.

The Prosecutor’s Office later made a statement vowing to appeal the court’s ruling.

Georgia’s chief prosecutor resigns amidst mass protests

‘The court’s ruling is unacceptable and unclear to us. It is unclear on what basis the court made this decision. It will be appealed to the Court of Appeals. We have provided authentic evidence. It’s unclear why the court didn’t share our evidence. We can see that there are questions regarding the investigation’, Shotadze said at a press briefing.

He also elaborated on the ‘questions society has regarding the forensic examination’ and said Swiss experts will revise all the evidence ‘in order to satisfy the public interest’.

Transparency International Georgia issued a statement on Thursday accusing the prosecution of failing to carry out a proper investigation, and calling for Shotadze’s resignation.

‘For many years, society has had questions regarding biased and inadequate investigations of high-profile cases, resulting in a lack of trust towards the institution. The prosecutor’s Office has lost society’s trust and the current heads of the institution are unable to regain it. Given the circumstances, Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze should take political responsibility and resign’, the statement said.

People gathering at the Prosecutor’s Office where the father of murdered teenager Davit Saralidze is holding a demonstration (Tatia Khaliani /Liberali)
Davit's father, Zaza Saralidze. Several of Saralidze's relatives broke down in tears at the demonstration (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)

The Saralidze family’s lawyer, Nestan Londaridze, said they are not asking for punishment for those who have not been found guilty by the court.

‘The court’s ruling has proved what we have been saying — the case has not been investigated properly and a lot of people need to be punished. We think that with this decision, the judge has indicated that the prosecution has to investigate this case in which they haven’t identified those who participated in the murder’, Londaridze said.

Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria also commented on the ruling, claiming it strengthened suspicions that investigators failed to fully identify Saralidze’s killers. She said the Public Defender’s office would examine the case.

‘The Public Defender calls on the Prosecutor’s Office to immediately start an investigation to identify whether others were involved in the crime. We’d also like to mention that there was already grounds for doing so, as according to the forensic examination, the wound on Davit Saralidze was not inflicted by the instrument acquired by the investigation’, said Lomjaria.

[Read more about fatal school stabbing in Tbilisi on OC Media: Arrests follow fatal school stabbing in Tbilisi]

Protest on 28 May 2018 (Mari Nikuradze/OC Media)
The double-killing caused shock-waves in Tbilisi, with some questioning weather the ‘criminal thinking of the nineties has returned’ (Luka Pertaia/OC Media)

Thousands of protesters blocked Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue on Sunday demanding a proper investigation into last December’s fatal stabbing of two teenagers outside their school. The father of one of the victim’s accused the authorities of tampering with evidence during the investigation.

Davit Saralidze and Levan Dadunashvili were fatally wounded on 1 December 2017 in a brawl that followed an argument in central Tbilisi’s School #51. The conflict between ninth-year and eleventh-year students started with a verbal altercation in the school toilet and culminated with a fight involving dozens of young people outside the school’s premises on Khorava Street.

On 2 December, two teenagers were charged with ‘premeditated murder of an underage person’, and another three for failing to report the crime, one of whom was also charged with helping the suspects to flee. Their cases continue.

‘A compromised investigation’

Saralidze’s family and supporters claimed the investigation into the stabbings had been compromised by evidence tampering.

The investigation has been plagued by allegations of misconduct since its launch, with Mirza Subeliani, the father of one of the participants of the brawl and a former high-ranking employee of the Prosecutor’s Office was allegedly caught on CCTV destroying evidence from the crime scene.

The Saralidze family said Subeliani would have had access to and could have influenced the investigation, and criticised the fact that he did not resign post until three days after the event.

The lawyer of one of the defendants has also claimed misconduct. Inga Sharashenidze and forensics expert Maia Nikoleishvili said that prosecutors threatened them after a report by Nikoleishvili contradicted the Prosecutor’s Office’s official version of events. Two days later, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed they were looking into the matter.

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