The mistrust of the state's case started early, and only grew over time.
That was the message from members of the jury that acquitted the men accused of participating in the assassination of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Six of those jurors sat down for lunch last week with Politkovskaya's colleagues from the newspaper "Novaya gazeta" to share their thoughts on the trial and their controversial not-guilty verdict.
They allowed "Novaya gazeta" to publish some of their comments, but asked that their names be withheld.
One juror said the judge's and prosecutor's attempts to keep the trial closed -- and present this to the public as a request from the jury -- immediately aroused suspicion:
When the prosecutors and the court itself with its chairman and secretary tried from the outset to make it a closed trial behind our backs, a kind of prejudice immediately arose, and it subsequently only increased.
As Robert Coalson chronicled here, one of the original jurors, Yevgeny Kolesov, exposed these official shenanigans in an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy before being dismissed from the case.
Another juror told "Novaya gazeta" that the prosecution's case alleging that Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov acted as accomplices in the assassination and that former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov helped organize the crime was shockingly weak:
I listened to what they said, and every day I began to be more and more convinced that I was witnessing some kind of show. You cannot just say, without any proof, that this person bought a pistol and handed it over to the murderer. You have to prove it. I don't know how. Find the person he bought the pistol from, find witnesses who saw him buy it, who saw whom he paid. Maybe he did it, I am not denying it, I am not saying he's as pure as the driven snow, but give us a base of evidence and we will believe you.
After the acquittals, Politkovskaya's son, Ilya, said he respected the verdict although he still believed that the three men were involved in his mother's killing.
Likewise, one juror told the "Novaya gazeta" journalists that there were strong suspicions among the jury that the three defendants were somehow involved, but added that in a court of law suspicion is not enough:
When it comes to feelings, there were all kinds of feelings: that they might know something, maybe, even that they were involved in something. But if you start getting into feelings rather than facts you might get carried away by emotions and deliver an unjust verdict.
When the prosecution pushes for a closed trial, and then proceeds with such a weak case, it naturally raises questions about whether they are hiding something.
One of the theories floated by analysts after the verdict suggests that the three suspects -- and the alleged triggerman, Rustam Makhmudov, who fled the country -- were indeed involved in the assassination, but were peripheral players. According to this scenario, the three suspects were patsies who were supposed to take the fall so the authorities could claim the crime was solved. And those who were really behind the hit, people the Kremlin would rather not see exposed, would be protected.
It is just speculation at this point, of course, but here is how Leonid Nikitinsky of the Court Reporters' Guild described this line of thinking in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service shortly after the jury reached its verdict:
The law enforcement bodies were involved. It is perfectly obvious that they were involved. Any criminal case is so complex that if you take one link out, the whole picture falls apart. My assumption -- and it's only an assumption -- is that they tried to pull someone out and the fabric of evidence fell apart.
The jurors, for their part, say they are at peace with their verdict. Here is how one of them elegantly put it:
I think that if Anna Politkovskaya was alive and if she had been in our place she would have acquitted them. I was guided by that, among other things, in making my decision.
Just another example of those unexpected acts of rebellion and unlikely forms of dissent that seem to be popping up all over Russia lately. And just another piece of evidence that the embattled institution of jury trials in Russia is well worth keeping intact.