The heavily built man was called to provide expert testimony on illegal steroids, but at the hearing instead kept repeating he was "not an expert" and gave vague descriptions of using peptides. Three of the prosecutors resigned over the course of the trial. Grandstaff said that one, the primary author of the indictment, had approached him before leaving to ask Grandstaff not to seek financial compensation from him for his role in the bringing the trial, which he implied he knew was wrong.
ABC News was unable to reach the prosecutor, but a witness to the conversation confirmed hearing the exchange.
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Russia's interior ministry and the prosecutor's office declined to answer questions on the case. Russia's federal penitentiary service and the department tasked with prisoners' court transport did not respond to ABC News' questions about Grandstaff's treatment. There appeared to be problems with Grandstaff's version of events, though. There was no recording of his conversation with the seller and no way to show he had not known what he was buying.
And in the indictment, prosecutors alleged that when they intercepted the package, the cleaner was packed in a manner typical of smuggling. Grandstaff said he could not have known how the seller would send the cleaner, and his lawyer has argued police may have tampered with it.
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Ultimately, even if Grandstaff had known what he was buying, the charge brought against him was excessively severe, experts said, given police accused him of intending to use it for personal fitness. He had also already spent well over a year and a half in jail, in grim conditions, without being convicted. Grandstaff's lawyer and other Russian legal experts said they believed the main driver in his case was likely one common to many Russian cases -- a desire to boost conviction quotas and a system that discourages any reversal once a person is charged.
Prosecutors receive promotions for conviction numbers, while dropping charges is treated as a failure. The culture of Russia's courts, experts said, is also heavily tilted in favor of the prosecution. Judges usually assume that if a case has reached court the person must be guilty. That presumption in turn means investigators often don't bother to present substantial evidence.
They think with the category by which they can examine the largest volume of cases.
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It's a conveyor belt," he said, adding that he thought the majority of Russia's defense lawyers could well go through their careers without ever winning an acquittal. Human rights lawyers have also described an epidemic of trumped-up drug cases in Russia. A Russian-language study by the St. Petersburg-based Institute for Problems of Legal Administration found there were tens of thousands of suspicious cases likely fabricated by police. Police fabricate cases, experts said, to meet quotas and also to create opportunities for bribery. Using fabricated evidence to inflate a minor possession charge into large-scale trafficking is a frequent tactic, Chikov said, since police were rewarded more for getting serious convictions.
Prominent Russian activists and journalists have also found themselves facing drug charges. Recently, for many Russians, the issue has seemed to become emblematic of the cynical arbitrariness of the justice system under President Vladimir Putin. This month those feelings erupted spectacularly when a prominent investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, was arrested in a crudely staged drug sting. The outcry that followed prompted an extraordinary reversal from the Russian authorities , who dropped the charges and fired the two police generals overseeing Golunov's case.
Many observers called it unprecedented, and there are calls now for a campaign for legislation to prevent such cases. False evidence, dummy witnesses, a token trial and conviction.
We all know dozens of examples of such lawlessness. The two police generals fired over Golunov's arrest had overseen the departments also conducting Grandstaff's case -- Yuri Devyatkin, chief of Moscow's counter-narcotics division, and Andrey Puchkov, head of police for the city's western district. There was no sign, however, that Grandstaff's case would break the pattern. In March of this year, almost days into Grandstaff's detention, the judge suddenly called a hearing to examine whether the prosecution's evidence was sufficient. It sounded like positive news, but Omelchenko was unsure.
On the day of the hearing, Grandstaff himself believed nothing would change. A court-appointed translator -- a young student -- was whispering the judge's words to Grandstaff. Suddenly, he looked up, surprised. The judge was listing problems with the case, naming the inadequacies that Grandstaff's lawyers had raised for months.
The police had never examined Grandstaff's computer, and they'd never established Grandstaff's interaction with the seller. The missing evidence, the judge said, meant the accusations against Grandstaff were "unconfirmed and incomplete. Then: "Grandstaff's detention is canceled and the court frees him in the courtroom. The young translator stared saucer-eyed at the judge. A choking sob came from the benches -- two of Grandstaff's friends were weeping. The guard unlocked the cage and for the first time Grandstaff walked out without handcuffs.
His friends began to applaud. His lawyer walked to him and shook his hand. Grandstaff's release was so unexpected that his wife wasn't at the hearing. Convinced nothing would change, he had told to Anna to go on a trip with friends. Grandstaff called her from the court.
She collapsed into tears. He believed it was a combination of factors, in particular a rigorous defense by his lawyer, Omelchenko. Another decisive factor, he said he believed, had been the presence of the media -- among them ABC News, the Times of London and the BBC's Russian-language news service -- that repeatedly attended the trial.
Grandstaff is now living back at in his apartment with Anna and trying to adapt to normal life. He keeps forgetting he is now allowed keys, he said, and still automatically put his hands behind his back to be cuffed before going through a door. The case, formally, is still open. The prosecution has appealed the judge's ruling to send the case back for further investigation, and Grandstaff is now waiting for an appeals hearing that is still unscheduled.
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If the ruling is overturned, Grandstaff could be placed back in pretrial detention, though his lawyer believes that is unlikely. Are they going to come back? Is this really over? It means that Grandstaff is now effectively in limbo. Allowed to move freely around Moscow and, in theory, to work, he is not permitted to leave Russia while the case is still open.
Though the Grandstaffs would like to return to the U. The prosecution has given no indication when an appeal hearing could happen, and Omelchenko said it's still possible the case could be left open for months, even years. In the meantime, he's been working on a new drawing: It's a bear holding up a pair of handcuffs, now unlocked. All rights reserved. Gaylen Grandstaff. Read opening statements of Fiona Hill and David Holmes for impeachment hearing. What matters this morning with George Stephanopoulos: Day 5 of impeachment hearings.
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