Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mendel Beilis -- You the Juror

The transcript of the Mendel Beilis trial is extremely long, over 1400 pages including closing arguments.  The translation runs over 3000 pages.  It is very difficult to read and that is due to another standard legal practice in Russia.  Put yourself in the place of a juror dealing with this situation, just for a few minutes.

In 1913 Russia, a criminal trial was an inquiry before a jury into the facts of the case.  It was not preceded by sifting the evidence to make sure that only provable facts were presented at trial.  It did not, as you read last week, eliminate rumor or gossip.  
The inquiry system required going through the material presented in the indictment, putting the named witnesses on the stand, and having them speak their piece.  Then the attorneys asked questions to trip them up or, in a last ditch, appealed to their depositions.  You, the juror, had to evaluate who probably told the truth.

This went to an extreme in the expert testimony, which was the only testimony allowed on the ritual murder charge.  The attorneys were required not to question the expert witnesses as if they didn’t believe the testimony.  They had to ask questions designed to bring out details that, as non-experts, they could not understand.  When it got to the second charge, ritual murder, you, the juror, were perfectly free to decide which witnesses you liked better because it was all a case of he-said, he-said.
In both phases of the trial, the attorneys could not ask questions that were not represented by evidence in the indictment.  There were two exceptions to this rule; if the prosecutors slipped up and asked such a question, the defense could also treat it in their followup (they always got the last word).  The other was that if the witness volunteered information, both parties could follow it up. 

So.  Trial by inqury.  It goes like this.
On day 2, Aleksandra Prikhodko, Andrey’s mother, reveals that evidence in the trial was faked because she was given suspenders that she knew weren’t Andrey’s.  They were adult size and Andrey wasn’t wearing his own suspenders because they were too tight.

On day 7, Gulko the harness maker says he and his tools weren't at the factory when Andrey was killed.  He also says he left his shvaiki, the supposed murder weapon, at the factory at the end of April and just somehow knew he was going to work in future at places where they would give him tools.
On day 9, Gulko’s shvaiki are shown to the jury as physical evidence, but in the afternoon the jury finds out that Mishchuk was tried on a charge of faking this as evidence.

On day 10, Gorbatko, the other harness maker, identifies the shvaiki Mishchuk “faked” as definitely Gulko’s.
On day 14 or 15, Krasovsky says that Gulko’s shvaiki were never involved with the case in the first place.  When he showed them to Tufanov, one of the doctors who performed the second autopsy, that doctor denied they were involved in the autopsy.

On day 22, Tufanov says that for purpose of the autopsy, they bought a set of shvaiki in the Galitsky marketplace to test in Andrey’s wounds to see if they would fit.
Could you remember all of that and take it into consideration during your deliberations with the rest of the jury?  You had to listen to 28 days of this kind of thing, back and forth, true or not, with absolute lying revealed on the witness stand. 

I was there.  I translated every word of the transcript.  There were times I was so tired and my hands hurt so bad from the typing that I just bagged the work for the day.  But at least I could get up and go work in the garden or make a batch of bread or some brownies or go shopping or something.  You, the juror, were condemned to sit there hour after hour, 14 hours a day, for 34 straight days, so you wouldn’t miss a word, true or not.  You were also sequestered.  No newspapers, no plays at the theater, no concerts, no nothing.
I couldn’t keep it straight without notes that I made and then developed into The Anvil, a “murder mystery” version.  Now imagine that you have a 6th grade education, maybe not even that.  How do you keep track of the players and their lies?

I believe that the kindest evaluation is, that the government relied on this situation when it empaneled 12 peasants, and excused the only prospective juror with a high school education.  The plan was probably that the jury would throw up its hands in confusion and vote the way their masters wanted.  Even with the obvious falsehoods in the testimony.
Didn’t happen.  Half the jury voted to acquit, and half to convict, and Russian law said that required the court to acquit Beilis. 

The urban legend is that on the ritual murder charge, the jury voted their prejudices saying that Andrey’s death was ritual murder, although they couldn’t say who committed it, and after 20 days of evidence that Vera Cheberyak and her gang murdered Andrey -- and none of them were Jews.  Or did they?  For that, you will have to read "Endgame".
In November 1913, Chaplinsky started another ritual murder case in Fastow, 50 miles west of Kiev, and went into the same program of faking the evidence.  Can you say “stupid”?  In February 1914, he and all the other Kiev regional officials who went along with him on this were replaced.  The real murderer, Ivan Goncharuk, was convicted in February 1915.

There is much more to the Beilis case than what I have shown in these introductory posts.  It is so complex that in the posts for the actual translation of the transcript, I include only a summary and a list of witnesses.  Then there’s a link to the translation for the courageous.  Or curious.  Or people who have an interest in the details of the case but can’t read Russian.
The Anvil includes what I think the real story of the murder was, and the story of the "Baron von Munchausen" of the case who was everywhere for the whole time the case went on, and who never testified either by deposition or on the witness stand, for the very good reason that he knew everything.  He got out of town the day before the trial started, and I have no doubt at all that the government helped with that.  You can contact me if you’re interested in reading this version, which is about as long as a Harlequin novel.

We’ll see who is interested in what.
For now, if you get anything out of these summary posts, or the murder mystery, or the translation, I hope it will be that no nation can run anything the way the Tsarist government ran the Beilis case and still claim to have a “legal system” or a “system of justice.”  The demonstrations and strikes that went on through the end of the Beilis trial showed that some Russians felt that way.  The fact that the Romanovs had to get help from foreign troops, and still couldn’t hold onto their throne, showed that far too many Russians felt that way about everything the Romanovs did from 1905 through 1917.  The fact that Russia staged a case all too similar to the Beilis case in 2012, when the punk band Pussy Riot was tried on two charges that weren’t in the Russian criminal code at the time, shows that Russia, among others, still doesn’t get it.
For those of you who read this through to the end, here is the link to "Endgame".

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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