The long road to justice for a 2002 double-murder in Gatlinburg has finally come to a successful end in Russia.
U.S. prosecutors say for the first time ever, the Russian government has convicted one of its own citizens for murdering someone in the United States. In this particular case, the crime was a brutal double-murder at a Gatlinburg apartment complex.
In July 2002, Gatlinburg Police discovered a brutal bloody scene at an apartment where three Russian Nationals lived together. What investigators did not initially have were any victims. Residents Vladimir Yemelyanov, Sufiya Arslanova, and Yuriy Solovyev were nowhere to be found. Someone attempted to cover the splatters of blood throughout the apartment with red spray paint.
The case quickly focused on Solovyev as a suspect when he was spotted in Washington DC using Yemelyanov's credit card. Even without the bodies, a Sevier County grand jury indicted Solovyev for the murders of Arslanova and Yemelyanov.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations named Solovyev one of its top 10 most wanted fugitives. However, his name came off the most wanted list when it was discovered he had escaped to his home nation "in Russia with no possibility of extradition."
"We [the United States] do not have an extradition treaty with Russia. Therefore, they will not send those people back to us to try," said Bill Killian, U.S. Attorney for Tennessee's Eastern District.
"We knew we didn't have an extradition treaty, but we weren't going to give up," said assistant U.S. attorney Chuck Atchley. "These were two particularly gruesome homicides."
The cold case heated up in March 2010 when Gatlinburg Police discovered the skeletal remains of Yemelyanov and Arslanova on a steep embankment along Highway 321.
"The bodies were brutally dismembered," said Atchley. "We then, in conjunction with them [the Russians], mentioned the possibility of them accepting our evidence and trying him under Russian law for the homicides."
Russian authorities agreed to charge Solovyev using their own justice system. They built their case by interviewing Gatlinburg detectives and forensic experts at the University of Tennessee.
"We have to mention the extreme hard work of Gatlinburg detectives in staying tenaciously on this case for several years. Then you have to acknowledge the good work that the University of Tennessee 'Body Farm' people did in their analysis of the case because the bodies were not discovered for some years."
Atchley said he learned on Tuesday of this week that Solovyev was convicted on December 28, 2012, of the Gatlinburg murders by a Moscow jury in Russian Federation Court.
"I cannot speak for the Russian Federation, but I personally feel sure that the fact the victims were also Russian nationals played a part in them really wanting to pursue this case," said Atchley. "I'm just really glad that they followed through with it. It would be a shame for any individual, no matter what country they came from, to escape justice."
"It's the first time that the Russian government has prosecuted a murder case that occurred in the United States by a Russian National citizen who committed the act," said Killian. "I think the lesson from this case is you cannot escape justice simply by going to a country that does not have extradition."
Killian and Atchley said they are waiting to hear what Solovyev's punishment will be in Russia. The U.S. attorneys expect find out Solovyev's sentence later this month.