There are those who argue that taking a life is unforgivable, no matter what the circumstances. That those who do so deserve the most severe punishment that can be meted out. Others believe that in some cases, such as when the killer is a victim, there should be leniency. Three Russian sisters currently on trial for killing their father are certainly hoping that will be the case.
In July 2018, Mikhail Khachaturyan was stabbed and battered to death by his three teenage daughters as he slept in their apartment in Moscow. Krestina, Angelina and Maria used a knife, hammer and pepper spray, inflicting fatal injuries to his head, neck and chest. They then called the police themselves and were arrested.
But it’s since been confirmed that Khachaturyan abused his daughters physically and psychologically for years before the attack. On the very evening of his death, he had summoned them individually to his room, where he berated them for not cleaning the flat properly and sprayed pepper gas in their faces.
Physical and sexual abuse
As more details have come to light, it’s been revealed that the trio – aged 19, 18 and 17 at the time of the killing – had suffered regular abuse. Khachaturyan had beaten and tortured them, kept them as prisoners, and sexually abused them.
As a result, the case is the subject of much debate in Russia, with more than 350,000 people signing a petition calling for the girls’ release. Human rights activists have said the sisters were the victims in the case, with no way of seeking either help or sanctuary.
But Russian law offers no protection for victims of domestic abuse. The police treat it as a ‘family issue’ and give little or no support. Since 2017, a first-time offender might receive just a fine or two weeks in custody.
And yet concerns about Khachaturyan’s behaviour had already been raised. The girls’ mother – who also suffered abuse at his hands and was not living with the family at the time of the killing – had spoken to police some years earlier. So had their neighbours. It seems no action was taken.
The sisters are not currently in custody but live under various restrictions that includes prohibiting them from speaking to each other. Psychiatric assessments have shown they were suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTSD).
Prosecutors are calling for the sisters to be convicted of pre-meditated murder as Khachaturyan was asleep. Their behaviour was deliberate, and their motive was revenge. If found guilty, they could be jailed for 20 years.
‘They acted in self-defence’
The trio’s lawyer, Alexei Parshin, says they acted in self-defence. Confirmation of the systematic “terrifying” abuse and torture they endured, he states, should lead to an acquittal: “Their mental and physical health was damaged for a long time and their lives were in danger.”
Under the Russian criminal code, self-defence is allowed in cases of ‘continuous crime’. As the investigation has shown extensive abuse by Khachaturyan dating back to 2014, it’s hoped the case will be dropped.
An association called Men’s State, which gives patriarchy and nationalism are its main values, have organised a campaign called Murderers Behind Bars which insists the sisters should not be released. The group has around 150,000 members on social media.
In contrast, a Change.org petition has attracted around 350,000 signatures calling for them to be freed and for Khachaturyan to be indicted for his crimes posthumously. A three-day support rally was held in June, with the aim of keeping the story in the news.
Supporters also hope the sisters’ cause will be helped following a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which awarded a Russian woman 20,000 Euros. Police failed to intervene when Valeria Volodina was kidnapped and assaulted by her ex-partner, even though she had sought protection.