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Suspect imprisoned for killing Armenian journalist

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July 25, 2011 08:47 AM EST | AP

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ANKARA, Turkey — A juvenile court on Monday convicted a 21-year-old hardliner in the murder of an ethnic Armenian journalist hated by Turkish nationalists, sentencing him to 22 years and 10 months in prison.

A panel of judges found Ogun Samast guilty of the "premeditated murder" of Hrant Dink outside of his office more than four years ago and of illegally bearing firearm. The court initially sentenced Samast to life in prison but then commuted his sentence because he was a minor at the time of the crime, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

Dink, chief editor of the minority Armenian Agos newspaper, had been prosecuted under Turkish law for describing the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th century as genocide. Turkey denies the deaths constituted genocide, insisting those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Dink had received death threats because of his comments about perhaps the darkest episode of Turkey's history and was fatally shot by Samast outside his office in Istanbul on Jan. 19, 2007.

Samast on Monday blamed banner headlines in newspapers at the time that he said portrayed Dink as a "traitor," NTV television reported.

Samast still faces separate terror charges along with 19 dozen other suspects in the main case about the assassination of Dink and could face an additional sentence of a maximum 16 years in prison.

The case was widely seen as a test of whether the judiciary can fully investigate possible negligence by authorities, who allegedly knew about plots to kill the journalist. In June, a Turkish court convicted and sentenced two military officers to six months in prison for ignoring intelligence that may have prevented Dink's murder. Four other officials were each given four-month sentences also for neglecting their duties.

The officers were accused of not acting on intelligence indicating that one of the suspects now also on trial, Yasin Hayal, was planning to kill Dink.

The officers, have denied any wrongdoing and appealed their convictions.