A Russian court acquitted three men accused of aiding the murder of Kremlin critic and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, leaving Russia's most politically charged murder in years still unsolved.
The men suspected of aiding the murder were released after the verdict was announced
The jury at a Moscow court said on Thursday, Feb. 19, that it found there was not enough evidence tying the four men to the murder of the Novaya Gazeta journalist, gunned down in a contract-style shooting in front of her Moscow apartment in 2006.
The prosecution had accused two Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov of being accomplices in the murder while former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov was accused of helping the killer get away.
The fourth defendant, Pavel Ryaguzov, was acquitted in a separate case. Ryaguzov, an agent of Russia's FSB security service was accused of providing the killer with Politkovskaya's address.
The man charged with pulling the trigger was never on trial and is reportedly at large.
Failure for prosecutors
Politkovskaya's death raised questions in the West about human rights in Russia
The verdict represents a public failure for Russian prosecutors after a long drawn-out trial that was criticized by Politkovskaya's family as a farce since none of the men on trial was either the killer or the man suspected of ordering her death.
"They have neither found the person who ordered the killing, the organizers nor the people who committed the crime," the Politkovskaya family's lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko, said after the verdicts were made public.
"Everything still lies ahead and it is now time for the prosecutor general to step up activity," she told Moscow Echo radio.
Prosecutors to appeal
State prosecutors said they plan to appeal the verdict and defense lawyer Murad Mussayev said he was prepared for a new trial should one be ordered by a higher court.
Mussayev added that there was a "99 percent chance that this verdict will be annulled by the Supreme Court."
Politkovskaya, who reported from Chechnya, was unwelcome in the Kremlin
The award-winning journalist for the daily Novaya Gazeta reported on alleged human rights abuses by the Kremlin during two wars in Chechnya in the early 1990s.
Politkovskaya, a 48-year-old mother of two when she was killed, had written dozens of articles and a book called "Putin's Russia" accusing then President Vladimir Putin of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy in the country.
The journalist's murder shocked the international community and raised concerns about crackdowns on Kremlin-critical reporters under Putin. Putin, who was constitutionally barred from standing for a third consecutive term, ceded the Kremlin office to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev in May. Putin is now Russia's prime minister.