Moscow region jury acquits suspected of murdering an Armenian teenager

A Moscow region jury has acquitted a man suspected of murdering an Armenian teenager.

The verdict comes amid escalating xenophobia and hate crimes in Russia.

A jury at the Moscow Region's Court has found the suspect, Anton Polusmyak, innocent despite the testimony of two witnesses who said he assaulted Artur Sardarian, the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies reported.

Officials at the court could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The 19-year-old Armenian was fatally stabbed in the neck and chest in May 2006 by two young men who approached him on a regional commuter train near Moscow. His lawyer said the attackers yelled "Glory to Russia!" and "Long live Russia!"

"The decision is a complete surprise to me and my wife," Sardarian's father, Eduard, told the daily Kommersant. "The jury preferred the opinion of the defense attorneys who claimed Polusmyak spent that night with his friends."

The second suspect's identity has not been established. Sardarian's lawyers said they would appeal the sentence.

Russia has seen a surge in racism and hate crimes in recent years, with a series of attacks on nonwhite or dark-skinned residents, foreigners and Jews.

This year, 31 people were killed and another 203 wounded in apparent hate crimes, said Galina Kozhevnikova of the Sova analytical center.

Rights groups say authorities do little or nothing to combat xenophobia, often prosecuting hate crimes as simple hooliganism.