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Defense attorneys present closing arguments in Ukrainian soldier’s trial in Pavia, Italy (Markiv case cont’d)

Vitaliy Markiv with defense attorneys Donatella Rapetti (left) and Niccolo Bertolini Clerici (right), Pavia, June 21, 2019
Defense attorneys present closing arguments in Ukrainian soldier’s trial in Pavia, Italy (Markiv case cont’d)
Article by: Nataliya Kudryk
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
The trial of Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv is drawing to an end. Markiv is accused of complicity in the death of Italian photographer Andrea Rochelli, his Russian interpreter Andriy Mironov and in the attempted murder of French photojournalist William Rugelon in Donbas on May 24, 2014. The verdict will be announced on July 12. There is one more court hearing on July 5, when the defense will make its final arguments. On June 21, the defense attorneys refuted all the charges, arguing that Markiv and the Ukrainian army were not involved in the tragedy, and that the shots had been fired by Russian-backed militants. Defense attorney Raffaele Della Valle made a strong impression on the audience with his 6-hour speech.

In his hour-long argument, Niccolo Bertolini Clerici, representing the interests of Ukraine, underlined the main charges, namely Markiv’s complicity in the death of two foreigners near occupied Sloviansk. He noted that among the 30 witnesses, no one could specify that Vitaliy Markov had actually been deployed on Mount Karachun on May 24, 2014, and had therefore been able to observe, as stated by the prosecutor, the movement of civilians (journalists) near the Zeus Ceramica factory.

Defense attorney Niccolo Bertolini Clerici defends the interests of Ukraine

Assuming that Markiv saw the civilians at a 2-km distance and reported it to headquarters, it is questionable whether it was the National Guard or the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that transmitted the information to Ukrainian army headquarters. About 150 Ukrainian soldiers were stationed on the mountain, so why aren’t they involved and why is Vitaliy Markiv the only soldier being charged? Clerici argues that, since Markiv also has Italian citizenship and was apprehended on Italian soil, was it not rather convenient for the prosecution to arrest and charge him in Italy?

“The prosecution insists that Markiv committed first-degree murder! But, there’s evidence that he advised other journalists not to go to this dangerous area. This evidence is arguably incompatible with a “murder” scenario.”

The shots came from somewhere near the foot of the mountain

According to the defense, the shots were fired by pro-Russian militants, and not Ukrainian forces, which were deployed further away, near the top of the mountain. French photojournalist William Rugelon says he heard someone yell: “Sniper!” As Clerici stated, a sniper can rarely hit a moving target at a distance of 2 km, pointing out that Lee Harvey Oswald was only 80 meters away from his victim, the US President.

Clerici also stated that Rugelon was not at all sure that someone was actually firing from the top of the mountain; he ran and hid from the crossfire near the railway, shouting “Journalist!”… and the shots ceased instantly. How could the Ukrainian soldiers on the mountain hear his cry? Clerici goes on to argue that close examination of the taxi, in which the journalists arrived, shows horizontal incoming shots, that is, from the side of the Russian-backed militants, and not from the mountain, where the Ukrainians were stationed. In addition, the Italian owner of the Zeus Ceramica factory confirmed that the entire area was surrounded by pro-Russian militants using heavy artillery and mortars.

Clerici then informed the jury about the course of the Ukrainian investigation into Rochelli’s case, which had been severely criticized by the prosecutor and plaintiffs. In July 2015, a Ukrainian investigation team questioned the first witnesses, responded to Italy’s request and invited the Italian team to visit the area for further investigation. The prosecutor was not satisfied with Ukraine’s investigation, stating that it had lasted a mere 20 minutes. Clerici explained that it was not possible to stay longer due to the hostile situation in the area.

Vitaliy Markiv’s attorney Raffaele Della Valle delivering his closing argument

Who is guilty? Where is the real culprit?

The leading defense counsel Raffaele Della Valle then proceeded to give an eloquent performance, which was even applauded by the prosecutor’s office. A member of the prosecution team stated off the record that Ukraine had hired very professional and experienced lawyers, and that the prosecution had been expecting such a strong offensive. Della Valle noted the strong bias in the entire trial, which started in July 2018, and the fact that 29-year-old Vitaliy Markiv had been in custody for almost two years. Raffaele Della Valle vividly expressed his disappointment:

“The prosecutor himself is not convinced of Markiv’s guilt; he calls the soldier a poor, young man… and yet he demands a 17-year sentence!”

Della Valle then addressed Andrea Rochelli’s family, pointing out that, in search for the truth about the cause of their son’s death, the family were demanding a guilty verdict without bothering about the truth and the real culprit.

“Defending Markiv’s innocence does not make me an opponent of Rochelli. No one doubts that on May 24, 2014, two real professionals – a journalists and an interpreter – died in the Ukrainian Donbas. They were not naive, but their profession was their calling, and as the famous military correspondent Ernest Hemingway once said, they “went where history was being made.” It is this fact that unites all the victims of this tragic incident, and not the nonsense that we’ve been hearing in the courtroom.” said Raffaele Della Valle.

Vitaliy Markiv in the foreground; the woman on the right in an embroidered shirt is Markiv’s mother, Oksana Maksymchuk

French photojournalist William Rugelon: witness and victim

Della Valle believes that the prosecution totally ignored a video where Andriy Mironov speaks clearly about gunfire and shelling from close by, i.e. the Russian mercenaries:

“Somebody’s shooting here, and I can hear mortars too.”

Raffaele Della Valle then picked apart each detail of the statements made by three witnesses, which were used by prosecutor Andrea Gianoncelli to reconstruct the facts and support the indictment. These statements were made by French photojournalist William Rugelon, Corriere della Sera reporter Ilaria Morani and photographer Marcello Fauchi.

Attorney Raffaele Della Valle during his closing argument, Pavia, June 21, 2019

Della Valle pointed out that Rugelon’s testimony, provided by the French investigation team in 2014, differed from his testimony to the Italian investigators in 2018. In the first case, four months after the tragic fact, Rugelon was unable to indicate where the gunfire was coming from. In the second case, four years later, Rugelon was more prepared and ready to testify that the shelling came from Mount Karachun, the position occupied by the Ukrainian army. Della Valle drew the judges’ attention to Rugelon’s condition, and that he had suffered psychological trauma and should be considered a victim of the tragedy.

Referring to the Frenchman’s testimony, Della Valle declared that Ukrainian soldiers were nowhere near the place where Andrea Rochelli and Andriy Mironov died. As Rugelon runs from the crossfire, he encounters no Ukrainian soldiers, only pro-Russian militants. So, the shots were fired from the foot of the mountain, where the Russian mercenaries were positioned. The attorney reminded the audience that the journalists were “in the midst of hostilities – a war – and whoever opened fire did not know that he was aiming at journalists”. Therefore, it is utterly absurd to assert that the killing was intentional, as stated by the prosecution.

A brief newspaper article as the basis for the whole trial

Raffaele Della Valle was especially critical of the prosecution’s core argument – the article by Ilaria Morani in Corriere della Sera, which the prosecutor and plaintiffs consider “the defendant’s confession of his crime”. However, Della Valle underlines that there is no confession in the article, but only a journalist’s interpretation of the telephone conversation between Vitaliy Markiv and Marcello Fauci and Ilaria Morani.

Journalist Ilaria Morani giving testimony, Pavia, December 14, 2018

Della Valle believes Morani greatly exaggerated the information she got from Markiv. Moreover, she presented the audience with misleading information: she called Markiv “captain” so that her source of information would sound more authoritative, whereas Markiv was not at all a captain of the National Guard, did not have any mortars, and was posted at the television tower on the mountain. Speaking as a witness at the trial, Morani admitted that she had the “impression” that Markiv was actually a captain…

During an interrogation, Morani admitted that her memory was not perfect, so “are we to believe her?” In the same article, Morani writes that Markiv warned the journalists not to travel to this area as it was very dangerous, so the prosecution’s charges – first-degree murder – are again groundless. Marcello Fauci, for his part, gave “a ton of evidence about the telephone conversation with Markiv, because he didn’t want to betray his friend [Markiv], but also wanted to be in solidarity with Morani”.

Court hearing of June 21, 2019

Words are important!

Della Valle asked the judges to take into account the words that were expressed during the telephone conversation.

“Words are like medicine. They must be used with extreme caution.”

The lawyer admitted that it was also difficult for him to pick the right words for his closing argument, so what could they expect from Markiv, who was in the middle of a combat zone? The soldier wanted to warn the journalists about the danger and at that moment how could he know that there were two reporters and an interpreter more than 1.5 km away? In fact, the group was composed of five, and not three civilians.

In his final argument, Della Valle often turned to the jury and asked them to pay attention to the facts, the events as they happened, and to take into account every item in this story, and not heed fantasy tales, interpretations, photos, videos, GPS, and other technical evidence presented by the prosecutor.

All the journalists attending the court hearing admitted that the last part of Raffaele Della Valle’s statement was a good lesson and a warning for reporters, namely on how important it is to carry out their job both honestly and conscientiously, no matter what the circumstances, and on how a careless word, even worse – conjectures – as in the Markiv case, can ruin a person’s life.

Raffaele Della Valle addressed his final words not only to the prosecutor, but to every professional reporter and photojournalist:

“A trial means blood, emotions and logic. Get away from your computer, use your head and feel with your heart.”

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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