By Tskriala Shermadini and Nino Abdaladze
“A policeman named Goderdzi was threatening me, asking if somebody had planted weed. If I didn’t tell him, he said he would accuse me of something I hadn’t done. He threatened me and beat me in the car, then took me to Ianeti forest and said he would kill me there. Goderdzi
Tevzadze was the policeman threatening me. Saying I should cooperate with the police…Goodbye all…Mother, now you are alone, but what can I do?”
22-year-old Demur Sturua wrote this letter on August 7, 2016 and than hung himself in his own yard in Dafnari village in western Georgia.
At first, Sturua’s mother Nona Jojua blamed former policeman Goderdzi Tevzadze for her son’s death. Later she changed her mind, giving the court a reason not to convict Tevzadze. According to the official court statement, the evidence against former policeman was insufficient. So after being held for nine months, he was released in July of 2017.
Sopho Verdzeuli is a Georgian lawyer for the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC). She and her team were working for Sturua’s family, but then the mother refused any more help. Verdzeuli says there is much evidence in this case, and a “not guilty” verdict was absolutely unexpected.
Verdzeuli thinks the mother played a crucial role in the court’s final decision: “When a mother says she doesn’t consider the defendant to be guilty, it affects the judge’s belief in what is true.”
iFact contacted Nona Jojua in Turkey, where she goes every few months to work. She says that in the beginning she was confused and that’s why she blamed Tevzadze.
Jojua now thinks “other people” made her son write the letter and that Tevzadze had nothing to do with it. But she does not name who she suspects drove her son to suicide.
After Jojua changed her mind, the following evidence also apparently did not affect the judge’s thinking:
- Court experts concluded the letter was truly written by Sturua. However, the court also said that “the letter alone and the information provided cannot prove Goderdzi Tevzadze’s guilt if it is not supported by other evidence.”
- Cameras recorded Sturua and Tevzadze meeting outside the police station on the day Sturua died.
- Records from the cell phone towers show that Sturua and Tevzadze were together in Ianeti forest. But the court did not consider this evidence trustworthy, and trusted the testimony of Tevzadze’s wife and neighbor. They claim that he was at home.
- On the day of the suicide, Tevzadze called Sturua several times. Tevzadze came to Sturua’s house, according to a neighbor. Tevzadze confirms he was there, but that Sturua was not yet dead. yet. However, the court concluded that Sturua died somewhere around 8 p.m. and Tevzadze was there at 2 a.m.
- Dafnari village resident Oleg Tavadze testified that Tevsadze, together with other policemen, asked him to be an informer.
Tevzadze was an inspector-investigator in the Samtredia police department. He began work in the department in 2003. After Sturua’s suicide, he wrote a resignation letter and left the job.
Tevzadze was sentenced to pre-trial detention on August 29, 2016. He was hiding for several weeks.
According to a Kutaisi City Court document, “Tevzadze left his job and stayed at home looking after his sick wife.”
On September 12, 2016, former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, still considered the most powerful man in Georgia, met with regional media. He was asked about Sturua’s case. “Unfortunately, while the police were investigating, he had time to hide. But I assure you the investigation will continue and the guilty will be punished,” Ivanishvili said.
The next day after Ivanishvili’s statement, Tevzadze turned himself in. He claimed he was not hiding and did not consider himself guilty.
Tevzadze told iFact.ge on May 21 that he was living at home for over two weeks while police were looking for him. When asked if police went to his house, he said they did, but he was out. “I did not know that they were looking for me,” he claimed. “When I found out, I turned myself in.”
The victim’s mother, also told iFact.ge that she believes Tevzadze was not hiding. “He was waiting for the situation to calm down. There was nothing to hide from,” she said.
Demur Sturua’s relationship with the police started when he received a sentence of two years on probation. According to his aunt Darijo Jashi, “Demuri saw several guys stealing from a storage area where he temporarily worked. He did not say anything to the police, which is why he was convicted for not reporting the crime. He was sentenced to probation and community service.” According to neighbors, Tevzadze often met with Sturua before his death.
Tavadze, who also lives in Dafnari village, told iFact.ge that police regularly asked him for information about specific robberies or other crimes. “In private conversations all (local youths) will tell you such stories, but nobody will confirm it officially,” Tavadze said. “Would there be any real results if they did talk about it?”
Jojua thinks her son’s death is connected with a story about a lost phone. According to court documents, in July 2016 a family in Dafnari villege lost a phone was lost. Police found it at a pawn shop in Kutaisi. According to the evidence, Sturua was at the pawn shop with an unknown person and left the phone along with his ID.
Now his mother says that because of this incident, her son was beaten and hung from a tree. But court experts could not find a trace of beating on Sturua’s body.
Tevzadze says Sturua was not beaten. The former police officer said Sturua asked him for a meeting on August 7 because Sturua had a conflict with guys in the village. A Prosecutor’s Office statement says that Tevzadze told Sturua to come to the police station. Tevzadze testified they met outside he station, and Sturua talked with him about the lost mobile phone.
The investigation did not connect Sturua’s death to the lost mobile phone. Only his mother tells this story. Tevzadze says Sturua had problems with young guys and with the cell phone. Villagers say Sturua worked daily helping neighbors in their gardens for money. The neighbors say he never stole anything from anybody.
Sturua was four when his family’s house burned down and his father died. He was put in an orphanage at age 6. After Sturua turned 18, sometimes he would live with an aunt and uncle, other times with his mother, who went to Turkey for work from time to time.
Sturua’s family did not have their own house. They lived in a house in Dafnari whose owner let them stay for free. Neighbors say Sturua was very reserved and had problems communicating with people.
The prosecutor’s office appealed Kutaisi City Court’s decision to release Tevzadze. The process continues in Appeals Court, which must decide if it believes the testimony of an ex-policeman and a mother, who strangely find themselves on the same side.