Verdict expected in air-traffic-controller killing trial

Final arguments were to be delivered today in the trial of a Russian architect accused of killing the air traffic controller on duty at the time of a midair plane collision in which his wife and two children were lost.

A Zurich Superior Court verdict was expected by this evening in the case of Vitaly Kaloyev, who acknowledged yesterday that he must have killed Peter Nielsen in February 2004, but could not remember the killing.

Kaloyev, 49, told the court he never wanted to cause physical suffering to anybody and only sought an apology from the head of the air navigation service Skyguide, whom he called the “main culprit” in the July 1, 2002, air crash that killed his family.

Nielsen was the sole controller on duty when the midair collision occurred over southern Germany, in the airspace supervised by Skyguide.

Ulrich Weder, the Zurich cantonal prosecutor, has asked the court to sentence Kaloyev to 12 years’ imprisonment, asserting that the crime was clearly premeditated homicide, but fell short of murder because Kaloyev had not acted out of malice.

Kaloyev’s lawyers pleaded for manslaughter and said the defendant was tormented by great psychological distress at the time of the crime. They said any prison term should not exceed three years.

Nielsen, 36, died of multiple stab wounds in front of his wife in his back yard. Kaloyev was later arrested in Zurich.

Nielsen gave only 44 seconds’ warning to a Bashkirian Airlines plane and a DHL cargo aircraft that they were getting too close to each other. He told the Russian plane to descend – sending the jetliner straight into the cargo jet.

The crash killed 71 people, including Kaloyev’s wife and his two children who were on their way to visit him in Spain, where he was working. He immediately went to the crash site and found his daughter’s body almost intact.

Kaloyev has been held in a psychiatric ward since his arrest for fear that he might attempt to commit suicide.

A psychiatric opinion prepared for the court said Kaloyev would have had diminished understanding of his actions, and that he might suffer from a personality disorder.

Asked by Judge Werner Hotz, head of the three-judge tribunal, whether he had health problems, Kaloyev answered: “I am not interested in my health.”

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