Viciebsk (Mikhasevich's) case
May 19, 1987, Judicial board on criminal cases of the Supreme Court of the USSR, presided by Judge Fedor Savkin, with state prosecutors – Senior Assistant Attorney General of the USSR Sergei Samoilov and assistant prosecutor of the Minsk region Uladzimir Panfiliuk, found Henadz Mikhasevich guilty of murder of 36 women on the territory of the Vicitebsk region in 1971-1985. Some of the women were also raped. Mikhasevich was sentenced to death and didn't appeal the sentence. He was executed on January 19, 1988.
The evidence was conclusive – not only the offender's handwriting matched the note left in a victim's mouth, the blood type was also identical with the blood type that was found on the crime scenes. Moreover, the defendant also accurately showed the burial sites, belongings of the killed were found at his home. As a result, instead of the 22 undisclosed murders he told about 43 (33 of which were proved at court), including 13 murders for which 14 innocent people had been convicted.
Victims of the court and investigation
Mr. Hlushakou was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for the first murder, of 19-year-old Liudmila Andaralava, who had been found murdered on May 16, 1971. The case was investigated by a specialist of the republican prosecutor's office Mikhail Zhauniarovich, known for “solving 100% of crimes”. Hlushakou wrote a confession because of his threats.
In 1972, one of the first victims of Mikhasevich was found strangled with stalks of rye in a field. Suspicion fell on the three friends who were walking with a dog not far from there on that day. The case was investigated by the same Zhauniarovich. Yanchanka was arrested for ten days, allegedly for a disorderly conduct, and the investigator demanded that he testify against Pashkevich and Kavaliou, promising him to be tried only for sheltering. After that the police detained Pashkevich, who was studying in a sports college, and told him that Yanchanka had testified against him. Kavaliou was detained by a military patrol on Zhauniarovich' scenario, as he was serving in the army, and was put to the brig, where the investigator tried to persuade him to confess. As a result, Kavaliou “confessed” after two weeks, Yanchanka – after two months, Pashkevich didn't take the blame at all. At the trial, the defendants stated about beatings. Pashkevich was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was released two weeks after the detention of Mikhasevich. Kavaliou was sentenced to 15 years and served 12 of them, Yanchanka was sentenced to three years. All three were rehabilitated in 1986. Parts of their interrogation and interview after the rehabilitation are available here.
Uladzimir Harelau, convicted of murdering a woman, went completely blind in prison and was released after 6 years, having lost his family. He also pleaded guilty during the investigation as he had been subjected to torture. At the trial, however, he pleaded innocent and stated about beating. Mr. Harelau was found guilty even despite the fact that the biological examination didn't confirm that the sperm on the victim belonged to him: there was invented a version that the woman had been raped by another man, and then killed by Harelau. He was also rehabilitated in 1986. His interview is available here.
Another victim is Aleh Adamau, convicted of the murder of a student on January 13, 1984. The body was found on February 2 under the railway embankment, not far from the quarry, where Adamau worked as a driver. Investigator Saroka investigated the case under a familiar scheme – 15 days for “disorderly conduct” and demands to confess to the murder. Like other “culprits”, Adamau “confessed” everything during the investigation, but refused from his testimonies at the open trial. The first trial justified him, since the biological examination hadn't confirmed that the sperm on the victim belonged to him. However, the Supreme Court overturned the decision and the case was reconsidered. Adamau got 15 years, but served less than two, as he was convicted for a “recent” victim of Mikhasevich. “Frankly speaking, I would have never returned to normal life had I served 15 years. I had some criminal friends even before that. When I got released, they came to me and persuaded to take part in their “affairs,” stated Adamau in his 2011 interview. Mikhasevich remembered this case one of the first, and showed the well in which he had thrown the bag of the deceased. While in the prison cell, Adamau tried to commit a suicide.
The most tragic event occurred in 1979, when Mikalai Tsiarenia was found guilty of a murder and sentenced to death. He was executed by shooting in 1980. The investigation had no evidence, that's why the investigators demanded confessions from the arrested and his friend Liudmila Kadushkina. As a result, at the trial Kadushkina stated that the murder had been committed by them. Tsiarenia didn't take the blame, though. Kadushkina was sentenced to ten years in prison and was rehabilitated in 1986.
There were also other victims, Matskevich, Bakulin, Frantsevich, Lushkouski, Blinau and Arol, all of whom had been sentenced to prison terms and were rehabilitated only thanks to Mikhasevich's confessions.
There were about 200 people who shared the responsibility for the falsification of evidence, pressure on the accused, forgery and other violations that resulted in the conviction of 14 innocent people. An investigation was held, and they were punished, but mostly formally, by reprimands or exclusion from the Communist party. Only several cases reached the court in the Latvian SSR. The trial of the prosecutor of the Belarusian Transport Prosecutor's Office Saroka (head of the investigative group on Adamau's case), the the operation officers Zhurba and Kirpichenka and the head of the criminal investigation department Bunkou was lead by Barys Kabanau and lasted for half a year. Only Saroka was sentenced to a real prison term, 4 years, whereas the rest got conditional terms varying between 2-2.5 years, during which they were drawn to building works at construction sites. The judge interpreted their actions as resulting “from misunderstanding of the interests of the investigation”. It was impossible to bring a case against Zhauniarovich, as he was a veteran of World War II.
An author of “Literaturnaya Gazeta” I.N. Gamayunov was an independent observer at the trials in Riga. His observations at the trial and talks with the victims can be found here.
It is worth noting that recognition of mistakes remains a very rare instance in the judicial system. Here is a quotation from the memoirs of the prosecutor Leonid Proshkin, who was involved in the rehabilitation of the victims of Mikhasevich's case in 1980ies and works as a lawyer in the Russian Federation:
"There was a case of a woman's murder in my practice in Belarus. <> The husband of the deceased, a hockey player, was arrested and sent to jail. The investigators, meanwhile, found the real killer. However, the innocent man had served six months by that time. Then they gave this hockey player, who had suffered personal grief, lost his wife, new hooliganism charges, unrelated to that case – they found that he had staged a fight during a hockey play once. That's how a judicial mistake is “corrected” by yet another lawlessness, as if the stupidity of those who charged him with the murder of his wife is recognized, according to elementary logic he shall get a compensation for moral and physical harm. But doing this would harm the reputation of the judges and investigators, to say the least.”
According to Mechyslau Hryb, who in 1985 was appointed the head of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Viciebsk Regional Executive Committee and directly participated in the pursuance of Mikhasevich, one of the reasons of judicial errors is giving ranks, awards and wage bonuses for high rates of crime disclosure. As a result, investigators can yield to the temptation to disclose crimes at any cost. In 2009 Mr. Hryb became the first signer of the petition against the death penalty in Belarus.