Swiss murder sentence reduced for Russian

A Russian citizen, Vitaly Kaloyev, who was sentenced by a Swiss court to 8 years in prison for the murder of an air traffic controller, has had his sentence reduced by almost three years.

When appealing the initial sentence, Kaloyev's lawyer Marcus Hug said his client was mentally affected by the tragedy.

“The sentence has been reduced from eight years to five years and three months. So the court has heard our appeal. In our talks Vitaly admits he has sympathy for the Nelsen family,” commented Marcus Hug.

Kaloyev's wife and two children died in the crash and he sought his own revenge. He stabbed air traffic controller Peter Nielsen outside his house. The Russian was arrested the day after – and in a surprisingly fast trial, the Supreme Court of Zurich sentenced him to eight years.

A team of Swiss, German, Russian and American investigators said the accident was due largely to negligence on the part of SkyGuide – the company in charge of air traffic. Numerous shortcomings were uncovered when the company was investigated, with employees often complaining of underfinancing – the reason why that day Peter Nielsen was on duty alone.

Despite the results of the investigation, SkyGuide blamed the Russian crew, before finally accepting full responsibility and apologising to the relatives of victims.

Support for Mr Kaloyev in Moscow and his home region of North Ossetia has remained strong.

Vitaly’s family admits that he killed Peter Nielsen. But they say it was a crime committed by a man in enormous pain, a father and a husband who lost everything.

“I’ve always told everyone, that in our dynasty, and we are a very-well known family in Ossetia, – we never seek revenge. We never point guns at anyone. What happened to Vitaly was a tragic mistake,” said Yury Kaloyev, Vitaly’s brother.

For the Kaloyevs it was a relief to hear the latest news from Switzerland. And although they refused to speak on camera, they said they are satisfied with the new verdict.

While in prison, Vitaly Kaloyev learnt German and used an interpreter only to discuss legal issues. His behaviour was described as decent but reserved, the devastating impact of the loss of his family leaving its mark.

The nub of the defence case presented yesterday by his counsel Markus Hug was that a man so distraught could not possibly be judged by normal judicial standards. The state prosecutor wanted Kaloyev jailed for “killing with intent” – which though less than murder nonetheless carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. But Marcus Hug argues that Kaloyev was mentally deranged at the time of the killing and was therefore guilty only of manslaughter, with a maximum sentence of ten years. Kaloyev says that he remembers nothing of the killing but accepts that he did it.

The reduction of prison term is still subject to an appeal in Swiss Federal Court, and prosecutor Ulrich Weder already announced he will file one, as he believes the new verdict too light for the scale of the crime Kaloyev had committed. On the other hand, Mr Hug says chances are high for Kaloyev to be released even as early as this August, taking into account his good behaviour in prison.