MOSCOW — Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the acquittal of three men charged with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist whose reporting directly challenged the country's most powerful leaders.
A Moscow jury acquitted the defendants _ two Chechen brothers and a former policeman _ in February after a trial that Politkovskaya's supporters said was undermined by prosecution errors and omissions.
The acquittal was an embarrassment for the Russian government, which has appeared eager to fend off charges that journalists and Kremlin critics can be murdered with impunity.
The prosecutors appealed the verdict, accusing the judge of making numerous procedural violations.
The Supreme Court agreed there had been a violation of procedural rules, court spokesman Pavel Odintsov said. The court ordered a new jury trial.
Not guilty verdicts are often reversed by Russia's higher courts.
All three defendants were accused of playing minor roles in Politkovskaya's shooting death in 2006. Prosecutors never explained who might have ordered the suspected contract killing, and the suspected gunman remains at large.
Politkovskaya was a ferocious critic of former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in particular his conduct of the war against Chechen separatists. She angered officials with her persistent reporting of human rights abuses and corruption in Chechnya under the leadership of Kremlin favorite Ramzan Kadyrov.
One of Politkovskaya's editors at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta said the main problem with the trial was that it was "just about these extras," referring to the three defendants.
"We're more interested in the mastermind and the killer," deputy editor Sergei Sokolov said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "It's completely obvious that today's ruling was based on a political decision, not a procedural one. For the authorities, the most important thing was just to make sure someone went to prison."
At least 16 journalists have died in contract-style slayings or under suspicious circumstances in Russia since 2000. Many more have been assaulted or threatened. Few of the crimes have been solved.
Svetlana Gannushkina, a rights lawyer, criticized the Supreme Court's decision, which she said was based on the argument that a defense lawyer had been allowed to put undue pressure on the jury.
"That's his job if the lawyer is doing a good job," Gannushkina said on the radio broadcast. She said the defense showed "that the prosecution's charges were built on sand."
Karinna Moskalenko, a prominent lawyer who represents Politkovskaya's family, said the investigators needed to do a better job making their case the second time around.
"We have hope," she said. "What they did before was unsatisfactory. The children still have hope."
Defense lawyer Murad Musayev said he had expected Thursday's decision.
"I'm convinced that if a new court is able to look at the case objectively and properly then our arguments will again be upheld," he said.
The defendants are former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov and two brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov. A third brother is suspected of shooting Politkovskaya five times in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006. He has not been found.
Dzhabrail Makhmudov said Thursday that he was ready to defend himself and his brother in court a second time.
"We've never run in our lives and we're not going to run from this now," he said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Prosecutors had accused Dzhabrail Makhmudov of driving the gunman to Politkovskaya's apartment building the day of the crime, while Ibragim was charged with calling to warn his brothers that Politkovskaya was on her way home.
Khadzhikurbanov allegedly planned details of the attack, recruited the Makhmudov brothers and acquired a pistol with a silencer for the shooting.
AP writer Mike Eckel contributed to this report.