Russian judge wraps up speed reading marathon

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The main object of interest in the Moscow court was perhaps not Russia's former richest man and current most famous inmate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. It was a pile of hundreds of sheets of paper.

It was this pile of paper that judge Viktor Danilkin had to read out to deliver the full verdict and pass sentence on Khodorkovsky and his co-accused Platon Lebedev -- each and every one.

And the main subject of attention after he delivered the initial guilty verdict Monday was how long this would take and if the judge would reach the finish line by the New Year, when Russia shuts down for 10 days of holiday.

To finish in time, Danilkin appeared to have adopted a tactic of speed reading, mumbling his way through the verdict, slurring words and barely bothering to glance up at the court.

He did not touch the water provided on his desk and instead stared fixedly at the papers in front of him and ploughed on remorselessly.

A court spokeswoman had said this week the date of culmination of the most controversial trial in Russia's post-Soviet history would simply depend on the physical capacities of the judge to read out the verdict.

Understanding what was going on was not helped by the court's decision -- never properly explained -- to turn off a relay of proceedings in a press room that had been set up next to the courthouse.

When the end was in sight Thursday afternoon, the courthouse suddenly packed with additional television crews and journalists.

Whereas in previous days an atmosphere of torpidity had descended on the court as the judge ploughed his way through the verdict, it was impossible to find space and journalists climbed up stepladders for a better view.

By the time Danilkin read out the 14 year jail sentence for the accused, journalists had to jostle and peer above the heads of their colleagues to view how the defendants received the news.

Both appeared at pains to show as much indifference as possible, smiling as if the outcome had been expected all along.

The main drama came from a woman who appeared to be Khodorkovsky's mother, who yelled "May you and your offspring be damned!" towards the judge.

Then in a stunning anti-climax to a trial that lasted almost two years, the media were immediately ordered out of the court by security, creating chaos in the stairwell of the small central courthouse.

In the ensuing chaos, one journalist was hit on the head by a camera tripod, forcing the calling of an ambulance.

It was also a stark contrast to the morning's proceedings when the verdict still appeared far off and people were even seen dozing off to the sound of the judge's monotone.

But after calling a conspicuously brief lunch of just 30 minutes, Danilkin proceeded to breeze through the afternoon proceedings at record pace, rapidly dismissing every one of the defence's arguments.

© 2010 AFP

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