Murder Trial in Moscow
Before taking his present post as assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, JEREMY R. YZRAEL was associated with Harvard’s Russian Research Center. In 1958, while he teas an exchange fellow at Moscow State University, he and his wife attended the trial here described.
WE FIRST learned of the case of Aleksandr Ivanovich Bazhenov from an announcement on the bulletin board of Moscow University’s law faculty which signaled forthcoming trials of special interest to aspiring Soviet jurists. However, despite this publicity, we were the only representatives of the university present in the small courtroom of the Moscow Oblast Court when, at 10 A.M. on November 10, the Bazhenov case was called. The rest of the audience consisted of sundry courtroom hangers-on, a sizable group of Bazhenov’s neighbors, Bazhenov’s wife, and the mother and several relatives of Bazhenov’s victim. For Bazhenov was charged under Article 136a of the Criminal Code of the Russian republic, the article dealing with premeditated murder from base motives.
People’s Judge Ivan Sergeyevich Shepilov summarized the bare details of the charge from the record of the pre-trial investigation which lay on his desk. First, however, he confirmed the identity and vital statistics of the accused, made sure that the latter did not object to the defense attorney who had been assigned him, and, after reading the law covering perjury, registered the witnesses who were slated to be heard.
Bazhenov, it was established, had been born in 1926, was a resident of a small village in Penza province, was of peasant origin and Russian nationality, was married but childless, had had six years of education, had served in the army from 1943 to 1950, was not a member of the Communist Party, had never before been accused or convicted of any crime, and, prior to his arrest, had been employed as a carpenter in a small factory. He was accused of having shot one Vladimir Si1kin, aged fourteen, when the latter, along with three youthful companions, invaded his private apple orchard at midnight on August 9, 1958.
This was the sum and substance of the formal charge, although, informed as it was by such technical details as the number (78) and location (the chest) of the gunshot wounds found on Silkin’s body, it took Judge Shepilov a full fifteen minutes to read it through. When he had finished, he asked Bazhenov whether he acknowledged the charge and asked the defense and prosecuting attorneys and the two people’s assessors, lay jurymen assigned to decide the case along with him, whether they had any questions about it. Receiving an affirmative answer from Bazhenov and a negative answer from the attorneys and assessors, Shepilov requested the accused to rise and give his own version of the case.
Bazhenov, it quickly became clear, was precisely what his appearance suggested: a simple, inarticulate peasant. He was obviously bewildered and terrified by his current predicament and could scarcely speak. Moreover, he was given no opportunity to compose himself, for, at almost every word he uttered. Judge Shepilov interjected an acid comment or supercilious question, thus frightening and bewildering the accused yet further. As a result, Bazhenov’s testimony added little to our knowledge of the events of the case. All it really did was give us our first insight into the character of Judge Shepilov, or, at least, into his attitude toward the case at hand:
BAZHENOV: I shot into the air.
SHEPILOV: But a man fell. Do you think we’re fools? You shot at people.
BAZHENOV: I didn’t want to kill anyone.
SHEPILOV: Really? Did you think that if you shot a
man he would become healthier?
BAZHENOV: I didn’t want to kill.
SHEPILOV: I didn’t ask what you wanted.
BAZHENOV: I didn’t want to.
SHEPILOV: Why did you do it, if you didn’t want to?
SHEPILOV: Did you think nothing was more important than apples? Why did yon kill? BAZHENOV: On account of apples. . . .
BAZHENOV: I wanted to shoot up. SHEPILOV: Where did you shoot? BAZHENOV: In the air.
SHEPILOV: Impossible ! That, you yourself fully understand. You are speaking nonsense. Where did you in fact shoot? bazhenov: In the chest.
SHEPILOV: If you had wanted to shoot up, at most the head would have been hit. What was the direction of the shot? BAZHENOV: Upwards.
SHEPILOV: You spent seven years in the armv and didn’t learn how to shoot? Really! Where did you shoot?
And so on. Bazhenov continued to insist that he had not wanted to kill and had fired into the air. Shepilov continued to insist that both propositions were nonsensical, and the merry-go-round went on for about twenty minutes.
The prosecutor, a sallow, self-satisfied-looking young man, also questioned Bazhenov. “You killed on account of apples? But what could your loss have been? Five or ten apples? Does that justify your shot?”
The examination of Bazhenov then passed into the hands of the defense attorney. Naum Viktorovich Bykovsky, with his carefully trimmed goatee, wavy gray hair, and comfortably well-groomed look, was the sort of elderly Russian who almost automatically inspires the confidence and trust of Westerners and frequently arouses the suspicion and hostility of Soviet activists. His questioning of Bazhenov was quiet and solicitous, and gave us our first substantial information about the circumstances of the Bazhenov case.
Bykovsky drew from Bazhenov the following history. The accused was dependent for half his income on the two cubic meters of apples which his small thirteen-tree orchard annually yielded him. However, ever since the orchard had begun to yield fruit, it had been beset by thieves. Often up to half the crop was stolen. During the past summer, Bazhenov testified, losses had been particularly heavy, reaching such proportions in the weeks immediately preceding the crime that he had finally taken to sleeping in the orchard in order to fend off the thieves.
Finally, only two weeks before Silkin’s death, he had managed to catch two thieves in the orchard. However, when he attempted to detain them, he was set upon and badly beaten. He had reported this to the militia, but, so far as he knew, no investigation had been conducted. In any event, his assailants had not been apprehended. With this experience behind him, he had decided to buy a shotgun, and it was with this weapon that he had shot Silkin when, upon being awakened at midnight, he had seen four figures in the orchard. He had not, in the darkness, been able to perceive that the intruders were adolescents, bnt he had given a warning whistle before firing, and he had fired—or, at least, had intended to fire—into the air.
WITH his client’s version of the case fully recorded. Bykovsky closed his examination. Judge Shepilov thereupon started to call the first witness, but the prosecutor interrupted with a request to ask the accused just one more question. His purpose was not clarification but reiteration of what was clearly the foundation stone of the prosecution’s case: “You intended merely to save apples, and that’s all?” Again Bazhenov responded affirmatively, and the parade of witnesses was permitted to begin.
The first three witnesses were Silkin’s companions on the fateful midnight raid. All three were sixteen-year-old factory apprentices; all three told substantially the same story. They were returning home from a public dance and, on passing Bazhenov’s orchard, suddenly decided to filch a few apples. All testified that Silkin had been reluctant to take part in the foray but had finally followed them over the orchard’s fence. All vigorously denied having stolen apples from Bazhenov or anyone else earlier. The only point on which they disagreed was whether or not the fatal shot had been preceded by a warning whistle.
The first of the boys to testify, the only one of the three who told his story clearly and coherently, claimed to remember such a whistle. The second, who insisted that the tragedy had occurred in July, not August, denied that there had been a whistle, and he was supported by the third. The point was clearly important to the attorneys as an index of Bazhenov’s intent, and both pursued the issue vigorously. Apart from this question, however, the prosecutor examined the boys only cursorily, and Bykovsky sought to establish that the boys, each of whom earned three hundred rubles a month, could have afforded to buy apples.
The last witness was Bazhenov’s wife, whose testimony confirmed that of her husband as to the care they had lavished on their orchard, its economic importance to them, the high losses they had sustained at the hands of thieves, the disruption of their normal lives brought about by the need for Bazhenov to sleep in the orchard, and the severity of Bazhenov’s injuries from the incident two weeks prior to Silkin’s death. She reported that when Bazhenov ran into the house on the fateful night and announced that he had just killed a man, her first words were, “You had better go to the militia,”and this rang true to her general character as it was revealed in the tone of her testimony. She spoke without the least trace of emotion, throughout referred to Bazhenov as “he,” and cast nary a glance toward the prisoner’s dock. And yet one somehow felt that there was more of peasant fatalism than of conjugal distance or betrayal in all this.
When the witnesses finished their testimony, Judge Shepilov asked the attorneys whether they had any further evidence to introduce before beginning their summaries and pleas. The defense attorney introduced the accused’s war record and work record. Bazhenov had won two citations for wounds received in battle and a First of May citiation for good work. The mention of war wounds had obviously won the respect of the audience, but the mention of the work citation called forth a low roll of laughter that clearly said. “Who hasn’t received such a certificate? You’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.” It was, therefore, on a slightly less than overwhelming note that Bykovsky resumed His seat, and a ten-minute recess was declared before the court would reconvene for final arguments.
LIKE the majority of the courtroom spectators, we took advantage of the recess to stretch our legs in the corridor. However, despite the obvious desire of several of the spectators to talk to us, we moved off a bit and simply listened and watched.
The mother of the victim, Silkin, sat sobbing quietly on a bench just outside the courtroom door. She had already caused some commotion in the courtroom, first by fainting as Judge Shepilov read the indictment with its gruesome description of the state of the corpse, and then by going into hysterics during the testimony of her son’s companions. On both occasions there had been a murmur of sympathy from the audience, which subsided only after Judge Shepilov rapped sharply for silence and warned that “This is a trial, not a spectacle.”
Now, however, the sobbing mother seemed to arouse the ire of the waiting crowd. Several elderly men from among the courtroom hangers-on in the audience turned on her and began to upbraid her for having raised a thief. “What but a bad end,”they demanded, “could be anticipated for such a son?”
The mother broke into yet louder and more bitter sobs. Over and over she shrieked, “No, no, he was a good boy.” But her protests seemed simply to increase the vehemence of her tormentors, who let loose a flood of cruel, mocking laughter interspersed with asides about the fate of thieves, the just deserts of delinquents, the way children reflect their parents’ character.
No one intervened, no one said, “Leave thee poor, bereaved woman alone!” Even the woman herself did not plead to be left in peace.
Immediately upon reconvening the court, Judge Shepilov called upon the prosecutor to sum up his case. The latter spoke rapidly and without passion — indeed, almost without expression. His summation, which was chaotically organized, reinforced our impression that he was so certain of the outcome of the case that he attached little importance to its presentation. The main themes of his summation could, of course, have been predicted from his prior arguments, but what was surprising was the cavalier fashion in which he handled the two legal problems on which the outcome of the case would presumably hinge: was the murder premeditated and was it, as the relevant article of the code insisted it had to be, committed from base motives?
As for premeditation, the prosecutor’s argument was simple: Bazhenov’s intent to murder was proved by the fact that he had loaded his shotgun with live ammunition and had incontrovertibly, his professions to the contrary notwithstanding, fired not into the air but directly at a person. The fact that Bazhenov had perhaps not intended the specific murder which occurred was, he asserted, irrelevant.
The issue of motivation seemed to him equally clear-cut. Soviet law, he said, was always especially severe where the protection of life was concerned, but it had to be doubly so when life was taken in defense of a few apples. Bazhenov himself had admitted repeatedly that he had murdered for the sake of apples. “What,” the prosecutor asked, “could be more miserly or base than to take the life of a fourteen-year-old boy for the sake of ten apples?” Bazhenov had a full range of defensive measures available for the protection of his orchard, but willfully chose to kill, and that without even a warning. The motive, the prosecutor reiterated, was to save a few apples; the victim was a young boy who had not even begun to live. “In the light of these facts,” he concluded, “I ask for a finding of guilty under Article 136a of the Criminal Code and request that the court return the normal maximum sentence of ten years’ deprivation of liberty.”
The entire tone and style of the prosecutor’s speech, which it had taken him only twelve minutes to deliver, contrasted sharply with that of defense attorney Bykovsky, who now rose to deliver his summation. The argument was both tightly organized and forceful, and skillfully blended four distinct elements. First, there was a careful reference to rulings and instructions from higher courts which bore on the case at hand. Second, there was a moving appeal, in the best tradition of Russian courtroom pleading, that the court put the case in the proper human perspective and judge only the individual who faced it. Third, there was a reinterpretation of the evidence in terms of the preceding elements — in terms of the rulings of higher courts and the individual circumstances of the accused. And finally, there was a striking reference to the possibilities of true justice, which had been introduced into Soviet judicial practice after Stalin’s death and were being put to the test in the present case.
Bykovsky stressed the fact that Bazhenov had been subjected to extreme provocation and that every Soviet citizen had the right to defend his property against thieves. However, he went much further. He opened his remarks by expressing his sympathy to Silkin’s relatives. He spoke with great emotion of how blessed was the gift of life, of how easy it was to snuff out and how impossible to restore. And then, wheeling toward the bench, he reminded the court that, though Silkin’s life was gone, Bazhenov was still alive, and that his fate, the fate of a living human being, rested now with the court.
Bazhenov, Bykovsky expostulated, was a poor and simple soul. He had given seven years of his life to the service of his country and upon returning to civilian life had sought, above all, peace and quiet. He had worked diligently and had devoted every spare moment to his small orchard. The orchard, Bykovsky argued, was much more than a source of profit to Bazhenov; it was a source of stability and personal satisfaction. However, as soon as the orchard had begun to flourish, it had been beset by thieves. Bazhenov had been forced to abandon his hearth and sleep amidst his precious trees in order to protect them and all they stood for. His whole life had been disrupted. And when he at last managed to catch some thieves, he had been badly beaten. Yet, even then the militia had done nothing except file a report on the assault.
It was only at this point, Bykovsky went on, only after he had been harassed, insulted, and injured, only after he had looked in vain to the public authorities for support, that Bazhenov, in desperation, had purchased a gun. There could be no doubt, Bykovsky asserted, that a Soviet citizen possessed the right to defend his property against hooligans and thieves. How, he demanded, could one attribute the exercise of this right to base motives, and hence bring it under Article 136a? Must one simply yield to a thief who demands one’s clothing or watch? Could resistance to the thief in such a case be attributed to base motives?
Previously, Bykovsky remonstrated in a low voice, it had been an accepted part of Soviet court practice to attribute the worst imaginable motives to the accused and to avoid inquiry into the specific circumstances which surrounded an alleged crime. Then, Bykovsky continued, it had been customary to consider the trial nothing more than a ceremonial ritual, after which the accused was automatically given the severest possible sentence. But now, Bykovsky emphatically reminded the court, all that had changed. Apropos of the present case, one could see the change in the Judicial Instruction handed down in 1956 by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Court, directing all lower courts to recognize that all citizens had the right of active defense of their property as well as their bodies and lives against hooligans.
How, Bykovsky thundered, could any prosecutor in 1958 claim that Bazhenov’s act was one of premeditated murder from base motives? Try as lie might, Bykovsky asserted, he could find nothing in any authoritative judicial text or contemporary directive which suggested that Bazhenov’s act was anything more than active defense of property.
It was true, Bykovsky conceded, that active defense was justified only in response to a “socially dangerous attack.”but that was precisely the nature of the robbery attempted by the unfortunate Siikin and his comrades. The boys could have bought apples, yet they stole; and Silkin was shot in the act of theft itself. “Socially dangerous? Of course! If one asks, ‘Where can one go from apples?', the answer is, ‘A long way. One can go to a watch, a jacket, a suit, and so forth.’ The populace demands that the fruits of its labors be protected.”
The only relevant question, Bykovsky maintained. was that of the degree of proportionality between attack and defense. The prosecutor, he insisted, was wrong to suggest that any question of proportionality between apples and lives was involved. No jurist would frame the question in this way. As for the really relevant question, Bykovsky went on, the defense itself was persuaded that Bazhenov had adopted a disproportionate defensive response. Bykovsky asserted that for this reason he himself did not consider it possible to recommend the simple acquittal of his client. However, the maximum sentence which could be tolerated was three years, and even that would be grossly excessive.
Bazhenov’s crime clearly falls under Article 139 of the Criminal Code — the article which deals specifically with overly extreme measures of defense. Under this article, Bazhenov is guilty. He should have shot into the air or perhaps toward the boy’s feet. But some sort of active defense was appropriate and necessary. Even if Silkin and his comrades had simply been innocently strolling through the orchard, the court would have to make a distinction between the objective situation and the motives of the accused.
In even this hypothetical case, the relevant article would still be 139. In the actual case at hand, where not innocent strolling but criminal theft characterized the objective situation, there is clearly no way to go beyond Article 139. Neither sympathy for the relatives of the deceased nor outdated judicial habit should or can lead us to apply the wrong article.
The prosecutor, who was visibly stunned by the vigor of the defense, demanded rebuttal time. There was real wonder in his voice as he admitted, “My, my ... so to speak . . . opponent is right about the instruction of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Court.” However, the prosecutor went on to say that his “opponent” had failed to mention that the Criminal Code of the Russian republic, while not denying citizens the right to active defense of their private property, specifically directed that great caution be exercised where only gardens or orchards were involved. This, he argued, constituted a warning to the courts that such things as the theft of apples by children did not justify active measures of defense.
To this, Bykovsky, in his very brief rebuttal of the prosecutor’s rebuttal, pointed out that at midnight on a dark night one could neither distinguish adolescents from adults nor be expected to ascertain the age of one’s assailants before acting in self-defense. He did not contest the prosecutor’s characterization of the Russian code, but simply reiterated the instruction of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Court and suggested that it was precisely because an orchard was involved that he had conceded Bazhenov’s action was excessive. Certainly, Bykovsky concluded, there was nothing in the code to support the prosecutor’s suggestion that action in defense of one’s orchard was automatically tantamount to action inspired by base motives.
WITH the summations and rebuttals completed, Judge Shepilov declared a one-hour luncheon recess, to be followed by the final statement of the accused. As his four guards with their bayoneted rifles led Bazhenov from the room, we approached Bykovsky and congratulated him on his conduct of the case. We explained that we were American students of Soviet affairs and told him that it would be a pleasure to report that the quality of defense in Soviet trials was so high. We told him that, to our minds, he had made the prosecutor’s case appear exceedingly flimsy.
Bykovsky thanked us with real warmth, but quickly changed the subject and began to inquire further about our special interests, our status in the Soviet Union, the nature of American legal training. Every time we tried to turn the discussion back to the Bazhenov case, he became distinctly ill at ease.
It was impossible, under the circumstances, to press him hard, but finally, after he had begun to glance at his watch, we asked what sort of decision he expected the court to return. We ourselves were quite optimistic, for we had by now adopted Bykovsky’s case as well as been persuaded by it, and therefore were rather surprised when Bykovsky, after hesitating just a second, said in a voice that seemed to us strangely sober and resigned, “You will see.” And with that he disappeared into his chamber.
After lunch, Bazhenov made his last statement in a whispered mutter, His head was cast down and his brow furrowed, and the words came out jerkily and expressionless: “I did not want to kill. I received two wounds in the war. I was beaten only ten days before the accident, and the militia did nothing. I loved my orchard and only wanted to protect it. I paid over six hundred rubles for my trees.” And with this last exalted sentiment, Bazhenov resumed his seat. His mercenary conclusion surely had not been advised by Bykovsky and showed perhaps more clearly than anything else Bazhenov’s own true character and total lack of sensitivity to the process in which he was caught up. It would, we feared, hardly turn the court’s final deliberations in his favor. However, Judge Shepilov evidently did not contemplate that lengthy deliberations would be necessary in any case. Immediately after Bazhenov’s statement, he announced that the court would reconvene for sentencing in fifty minutes.
When the court reconvened. Judge Shepilov immediately began to read an almost interminable but carefully organized decision which rehearsed all the facts of the case and all of the interpretations adduced. Two pages were devoted to a new description of the condition of Silkin’s body after the shotgun blast. Shepilov’s view of the case was clear-cut: the murder was ghastly, it was committed for the sake of a few apples, base motives were unmistakably at its root, it clearly fell under Article 136a, defining premeditated murder. The argument of the prosecution had carried the day, and the prosecutor leaned back in his chair with a sigh of satisfaction. Bykovsky did not raise his head from his papers. The audience waited for the sentence to be pronounced in a silence that was electric with anticipation.
“The crime.” Judge Shepilov said slowly, “is not merely horrible; it is lull of implications which justify our considering it a socially dangerous crime. In light of this fact, the crime falls outside the limits visualized in the scale of normal penalties attached to Article 136a. Because his crime was particularly socially dangerous, the court sentences the accused to the extreme measure of social defense, death by shooting.” And then, fairly screaming at the defendant, “Clear enough?”
There was a gasp throughout the courtroom, and then, for the minute it took the shock to set in, there was silence. The first sound to be heard was a long, low sob from Bazhenov’s wife, followed immediately, as if in response, by shouts of “Correct, correct, thank God, thank God” from Silkin’s mother and several of her friends. These worn babas struggled to their feet and began frantically to cross themselves as they shouted. As the members of the bench filed out, these women pushed toward the aisle and reached out to touch Judge Shepilov as he passed, stern-faced, eyes straight ahead. “Thank God.” “Correct, correct.” “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” they cried.
They turned with curses and imprecations on Bazhenov, who sat slumped in his seat. His wife, who had broken into uncontrollable sobs, they simultaneously belabored with derisive howls of glee and consoled with comments on her still young years and new-won freedom. Finally, they noticed us staring at them, and evidently they sensed a challenge in our look. “The verdict was right; the verdict was right, wasn’t it?” several voices demanded.
We shrugged, but the demand was put again and again, more and more imperatively, and, at the same time, more and more imploringly, as if all their conclusions and the rectitude of all their actions hinged on our assent. At last, braving we knew not what, we said that we could not agree with either the verdict or the sentence. They must know as well as we, we said, that the fatal words “socially dangerous” were ordinarily applied only to crimes of high political import or to serious crimes committed by recidivists. The Soviet Union boasted to the entire world that to all intents and purposes it had no death penalty, and the entire world believed that this was so to all intents and purposes, even when it knew about the existence of the extraordinary provision dealing with “socially dangerous crimes.”
There was a sudden silence, and then one wrinkled old woman leaned forward and, as the others drew around, whispered. “You don’t know Bazhenov. He’s a monster, a fiend. Why, just before he killed Silkin, he gnawed the hand from a fiveyear-old baby whom he caught in his orchard. He’s a cannibal. He’s had six children of his own, but he’s boiled them all in oil. You don’t know Bazhenov.” The eyes of our aged confidante grew narrower as she spoke; her tone grew ever more mysterious. At first the crowd around us listened with as much wonder as we but soon they began to nod vigorously, “He ate off a boy’s hand.” one repeated. “Boiled his own children.” rasped another. A village legend, the legend of the monster Bazhenov, was being created. It was as if, having seen Bazhenov’s fate, his neighbors had concluded that the accused had to be a Satanic fiend. As if this were the only way they could make the outcome of the trial comprehensible. We were the catalysts that called their response forth, but once the moral was established, our belief or disbelief became irrelevant, and no one tried to detain us as we edged out of the circle.
It was only after we had found a café in which to collect our breaths and our thoughts that we realized that perhaps there was a sense in which the response of Bazhenov’s fellow villagers was more than merely psychologically noteworthy. Perhaps the trial we had just witnessed had been intended not merely to uphold the law but to point a broader moral.
There was the fact that the Bazhenov case had been singled out for its special interest to law students. There was the whole tenor of Judge Shepilov’s initial examination of the accused. There was the prosecutor’s concentration on the nonjuridical aspects of the case and his obvious complacency about the outcome. There was the surprise shown at the vigor of Bykovsky’s defense of the accused. There was Bykovsky’s stress on the illegitimacy of ceremonial trials, coupled, however, with his unwillingness to ask that his client be acquitted. Finally, there was Bykovsky’s message to us. Retrospectively, his “You will see” seemed to suggest: “No matter that you are persuaded and impressed by my defense; the key to this case lies outside my influence.”
However, though they had, in a sense, been less naïve than we, Bazhenov’s neighbors had surely drawn the wrong lesson from the trial. Their legend completely blunted the political and ideological moral the regime intended, which was not that Bazhenov was evil incarnate but rather that he had become evil incarnate under the corrupting influence of acquisitiveness and selfishness rooted in the possession of private property. It was not Bazhenov’s having succumbed to evil instincts that was to be stressed, but his having succumbed to evil and “backward” instincts — the retrograde instincts of capitalism. The trial, we concluded, was very probably intended to serve as an especially significant object lesson in the regime’s perpetual, and recently intensified, campaign against manifestations of the psychology of private ownership.
Yet there remained a puzzle. The regime’s campaign against manifestations of the “bourgeois property instinct,” while it had been energetic, had not been out rightly terroristic in recent years, especially where the rural population, with its deep-rooted attachment to its garden plots, was concerned. Judge Shepilov’s sentence, however, had smacked of outright terrorism. It was, therefore, with some interest that we learned that on appeal by the prosecutor the Supreme Court of the Russian republic had reduced Bazhenov’s sentence to ten years. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not explain the rationale behind its decision. What seemed likely, if our interpretative hypothesis was correct, was that at the original trial Judge Shepilov, aware that the case before him had special political and ideological significance, had overreacted. The purpose of the appeal, then, apart from salving the prosecutor’s pride, was to rebuke the judge for his excessive zeal and the distortion of the “true” moral of the trial which was its consequence.
Another possibility was that the Supreme Court was striking against the continued presence of much wider tendencies on the part of some Soviet judges to invoke the “socially dangerous” escape clause in the law code as readily as they had prior to Stalin’s death. The reduction of sentence might, that is, have been a partial vindication of legality in the Western sense — an attack on judicial terror in general and not merely on its clumsy use in a politically sensitive situation. But if this had been the intended implication, it would have been conveyed much more effectively had the Supreme Court reviewed the case on an appeal not from the prosecutor but from defense lawyer Bykovsky, or, at the very least, had the Supreme Court followed Bykovsky’s recommendations as to the proper article to apply to the case and the appropriate sentence to impose. In short, we still felt that the Bazhenov case was a miscarriage of justice and that the probable explanation lay outside the legal system proper. Certainly Bykovsky was not formally vindicated by the Supreme Court. And yet we were aware that in a long-term perspective, the most significant thing about the Bazhenov trial might well be that Bykovsky’s voice was heard.