Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anatoly Onoprienko, Citizen O

Caged Justice

Deemed competent to face the charges against him, Onoprienko's trial opened in the city of Zhytomyr, 90 miles west of Kiev on February 12, 1999. As the proceedings began, Onoprienko, like Andrei Chikatilo, Russia's infamous "Rostov Ripper," sat in court in an iron cage, and was spat upon and raged at by the public. Hundreds of people huddled together in the unheated courtroom were angered, "Let us tear him apart," shouted a woman from the back of the court room just before the hearing started, adding, "He does not deserve to be shot. He needs to die a slow and agonizing death." Afraid that the crowd might take the law into their own hands, police searched bags and made everyone pass through an airport-style metal detector before continuing. Many of those attending the hearing said they were afraid that the killer would be sentenced to only 15 years in prison - the maximum sentence possible under Ukrainian law, except for capital punishment.

While in court, Onoprienko had very little to say. Asked if he would like to make a statement he shrugged his shoulders and replied, "No, nothing." Informed of his legal rights he growled, "This is your law." When asked to state his nationality, he said, "None." When Judge Dmitry Lipsky said this was impossible, Onoprienko rolled his eyes and replied, "Well, according to law enforcement officers, I'm Ukrainian."

The defendant claimed he felt like a robot driven for years by a dark force and argued that he should not be tried until authorities could determine the source. "You are not able to take me as I am," he shouted at Judge Dmytro Lypsky. "You do not see all the good I am going to do, and you will never understand me," he said. "This is a great force that controls this hall as well. You will never understand this. Maybe only your grandchildren will understand."

Onoprienko's lawyer, Ruslan Moshkovsky, who said he did not contest his client's guilt, blamed ineptitude of investigators for the extent of his rampage and asked that his childhood in the orphanage be viewed as an extenuating circumstance. Nonetheless, Prosecutor Yury Ignatenko countered that examinations of Onoprienko's mental health during the investigation had overturned an independent diagnosis of schizophrenia made before his arrest, and a further test ordered by the court confirmed his current mental health. The prosecutor said Onoprienko's motives lay in his own violent nature. "In every society there have been and are people who due to their innate natures can kill, and there are those who will never do that," he added. "People demand how come he killed so many people. But why not, if conditions make it possible?... Onoprienko led a double life, and that is the main thing."

Onoprienko told the court that he had been driven by a devil, higher powers and mysterious voices. He assured the court he was guilty of all charges against him, however insisted that he felt no remorse. "I would kill today in spite of anything," Anatoly told the court. "Today I am a beast of Satan."

Following 100 volumes of shocking evidence and the defendant's own admissions, closing arguments began in April of 1999. Prosecutor Yury Ignatenko wasted little time in demanding the death sentence, "In view of the extreme danger posed by (Anatoly) Onoprienko as a person, I consider that the punishment for him must also be extreme -- in the form of the death sentence," Yury Ignatenko told the court in his concluding speech.

Onoprienko's lawyer Ruslan Moshkovsky, once again tried to play on the sympathy of the court as he began his own closing arguments, "My defendant was from the age of four deprived of motherly love, and the absence of care which is necessary for the formation of a real man," Moshkovsky said. "I appeal to the court...to soften the punishment."

With the trial now over, court was adjourned to await the judge's ultimate verdict.

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