Formerly pardoned inmate kills 25-year-old stepdaughter in Georgia
The president of Georgia has temporarily suspended pardons for inmates serving sentences for violent crimes.
Margvelashvili personally announced this at a briefing over the case of a recent murder that took place on Barnovi Street.
On 13 April, 25-year-old Tamar Gamrekelashvili’s throat was slit with a knife in front of her two young children in downtown Tbilisi on Barnovi street. Police quickly detained the suspect – Vepkhia Bakradze (born 1972), the stepfather of the victim.
The crime is being investigated as a case of domestic violence. In 2015, Bakradze was sentenced to prison for assaulting his wife (the mother of Gamrekelashvili), but several months ago was pardoned by the president and released.
Why did the president pardon Bakradze?
This is the main question being asked by the public who have been shaken by this violent crime.
Both the ruling party, the opposition and other officials have criticised the president for the move. The president was also criticised by members of the Women’s Movement, civic activists and Facebook users. The president answered the criticism three days later at a special briefing on Monday, noting that society’s questions are ‘entirely legitimate’.
The president says that Bakradze received a positive assessment by both the psychologist from the correctional facility in which Bakradze was serving his sentence and the prison administration.
When deciding whether or not to pardon Bakradze, the fact that he had admitted his guilt and repented, that he was the father of four children and his family had pleaded for him to be released were taken into account.
Giorgi Margvelashvili underlined that the pardon committee had lodged an application with him to free Bakradze, but Margvelashvili only commuted his sentence down to six months.
“If I hadn’t done this, if I hadn’t shortened his sentence to six or seven months, then Bakradze would already have been free having served the entirety of his sentence,” stated Margvelashvili.
“Despite this, it is regrettable and painful to acknowledge that we pardoned a person capable of such a crime,” he added.
In order to avoid similar mistakes in the future, the president has decided to temporarily suspend pardons for inmates convicted of violent crimes.
“I am suspending this process … We are consulting with groups that work on issues of violence, violence against women, and maybe they will be able to give us concrete advice and recommendations. Only after this will the committee resume pardoning those who committed violent crimes,” Margvelashvili said.
Murder on Barnovi Street
There are two witnesses to the crime which took place on 13 April: Tamar Gamrekelashvili’s children, one of whom is six, and the other, three.
Family members of the victim say that during Bakradze’s time in prison, and after his release, he constantly threatened his former wife and demanded that they reunite, and that if she refused he would kill her children.
“I lived under the yoke of constant violence, both physical and psychological. At the end of February, he snatched me while I was coming out of my house and shoved me into his car. He took me to his home in Kumisi. Along the road, he threatened me with a knife. In Kumisi, he chained me up and wouldn’t let me leave the house for two weeks. When I still refused to get back together with him, he started threatening that he would kill either me or my daughter. And that day both Tamar and I went to the police. Then I went to get the children from nursery school. I was overwhelmed by serious forebodings. I called her. She didn’t answer. And then he answered the call and said: “Your daughter is already in the grave.” I hurried home, where I found the kids covered in their mother’s blood,” said the victim’s mother, Natia Kobadze, to Interpress.
Bakradze has been accused of murdering a relative with particular brutality. The crime is punishable with either a 16-20 year prison sentence or life imprisonment.
The Women’s Movement and the opposition demand changes to the legislation.
The ombudsman’s 2017 report said that 40 women have died in the past three years as a result of domestic violence in Georgia.
The murder on Barnovi Street may possibly serve as a catalyst to initiate a series of changes in the country’s legislation.
The Women’s Movement has released a special petition demanding more severe punishment for violence against women as the number of cases has grown in recent years.
“These murders are not simple murders. Women are killed mainly because they are women – such murders are called ‘femicide’. Femicide is a crime based on discrimination. It is retaliation for the alleged ‘non-observance of a woman’s duties’,” says the petition.
The main demand put forward in the petition to the country’s parliament is to introduce a special bill dealing with femicide.
“Gender-based murders should either be considered as aggravated murder punishable by a sentence of 13 to 20 years, or, if the investigation reveals other aggravating circumstances, then the perpetrator should be sentenced to life imprisonment,” reads the petition.
“The petition also asks the president of Georgia to not use his right to pardon criminals in cases connected to femicide and other crimes committed on the grounds of gender discrimination.”
The European Georgia Opposition party has also demanded amendments to the country’s legislation. The party proposes passing a bill in which the police must detain individuals suspected of domestic violence for a preliminary period of 48 hours if the evidence points to him being a threat to his family members.
“This kind of detention is necessary for the de-escalation of conflict in its critical period. Moreover, police will have more time to uncover evidence of the crime. Also, the victim may give evidence without fear of retaliation from the perpetrator,” say European Georgia representatives.
In 2017, Georgia officially signed the Council of Europe Convention against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. This means that Georgia must carry out a number of obligations and criminalise certain actions against women and other forms of domestic violence.
According to the convention, psychological, physical and sexual violence must be criminalised, in addition to the mutilation of sexual organs, forced marriages, abortions and sterilisation.