Court ruling releases serial offender after 38 years in jail

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Selection of judge's gavels (photo is illustrative). Source: Silver Gutmann/Supreme Court

A court has ruled a man who was once on death row and who had been imprisoned for nearly 40 years on murder and other violent and sex crime charges can be released on parole, overruling a lower-tier court's decision to keep him behind bars.

The man's parole conditions include a requirement not to drink alcohol, BNS reports.

Oleg Pjatnitski was first jailed in 1983 while Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, initially for theft, but subsequently committed acts of homicide and sex crimes which meant his prison time snowballed from thereon in, and he later found himself on death row. Estonia abolished the death penalty in the late 1990s, though then-president Lennart Meri had pardoned Pjatnitski ahead of that development.

BNS reports that 38 years was, in the second-tier Tartu Circuit Court's view, sufficient for Pjatnitski's rehabilitation, disagreeing with a first-tier county court judgment in February that he presented a risk of recidivism.

Pjatnitski is now aged 61.

Tartu Circout Court's criminal chamber ruled that the circumstances of Pjatnitski's crimes when viewed individually present no grounds to believe that, given the length of his jail time, he is too risky to release on parole.

Pjatnitski no longer poses a threat to society to a degree which precludes his release, the court added.

Will reside at rehabilitation center

The terms of Pjatnitski's release are: A seven-year probationary period, a requirement to reside at a stated address – actually a rehabilitation center, a bar on leaving Estonia without permission and a bar on the consumption of alcohol, while he must remain under electronic surveillance for the first 10 months of freedom and must take part in a social program.

In December 1983, when Yuri Andropov was General Secretary of the Communist Party, the Estonian SSR's Supreme Court sentenced Pjatnitski to four years' jail time.

Two years later, he was found guilty of murder, rape and other sex crimes, as well as property crimes and theft, which saw his sentence bumped up to 15 years, BNS reports.

In the fall of 1992, by which time Estonia was an independent country, the Supreme Court found him guilty of the murder of a fellow prison inmate, and sentenced him to death.

In March 1993, Lennart Meri pardoned Pjatnitski, whose sentence was commuted to life in prison, backdated to a start date of May 12 1983.

Last crime committed in 2002

In 2002, a Tallinn court found him guilty of serious bodily harm, committed against an inmate, which saw his sentence extended by a further nine years to run concurrently with the existing life sentence.

Tartu Circuit Court ruled that Pjatnitski's subsequent conduct in jail and his apparent behavior and psychology demonstrate he will be a law-abiding citizen; rehabilitation over the past 19 years (i.e. since his last crime committed in 2002) has reportedly been stellar, with language learning and various social programs Pjatnitski has taken part in during that time leading to positive feedback.

He is also aware of the nature and gravity of his crimes and has expressed deep regret at them, along with a desire to spend the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen, which has also told in his favor, BNS reports.

Any violation of probation may see him returned behind bars, while any criminal act of any kind would mean the same, for the duration of the life sentence, it is reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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