The defendant in the homicide trial in the death of Petruna Milchova Nikolova, dubbed as the ‘dog mauling case’ has pleaded not guilty to homicide charges.
The 27-year-old suspect was arraigned on Friday in the Paphos Courthouse where he pleaded not guilty to charges of homicide and criminal negligence, as well as a misdemeanor charge on culpable negligence which was added at the last minute.
Nikolova’s death, which has come to be known as the ‘Yeroskipou dog mauling case’ shocked the public when the victim, a 46-year-old Bulgarian national, was found fatally injured in a rural field in Yeroskipou on 22 February 2018, only days after arriving to Cyprus in search of a job.
Exact cause of death still undisclosed
An initial autopsy suggested that Nikolova sustained multiple injuries possibly caused by farming equipment, but officials in subsequent forensic exams pointed to dog bites after police investigators said they were tipped off about two Rottweiler dogs from the area that might have mauled the victim to death.
The leading prosecutor in the case, Andreas Hadjikyriacou, told the court that he received lab results from samples that would show whether they point to any of the five dogs owned by the defendant.
The ethics committee head of the Cyprus Medical Association expressed concern that the real reasons behind Nikolova’s death would be swept under the rug
Previous testimony pointed to two dogs in addition to the five owned by the suspect. But things were made more complicated when police could not locate the two Rotties in question, despite a witness suggesting he saw them attacking Nikolova and running away. The eye witness also claimed that both dogs were killed and buried, while no burials or remains had been found in the area.
Hadjikyriacou later admitted back in November that the suspect owned only five dogs and not seven as previously suggested by police. But the prosecutor slapped a new charge on the suspect, accusing him of criminal recklessness and negligence by “omitting to take precautions against any probable danger from any animal in his possession” which is a misdemeanor based on the criminal code.
Defence attorney Elias Stephanou raised no objection over lab test results and phone records entering the official record as material evidence. Clothes worn by the victim, as well as the rescue stretcher and a collection of photographs, were also presented in court.
But Stephanou told the court he still had not received as expected a crucial autopsy report, which was the fifth conducted in the case. Greek forensics professor Hara Speliotopoulou, who has collaborated with state authorities in Cyprus on a number of other serious cases, had been called to work on the case by the attorney general.
The case has been controversial from the very beginning, with some experts and media criticising state pathologists following the initial stages of the investigation in the case.
The ethics committee head of the Cyprus Medical Association (CMA), Vasos Economou, expressed concern in March 2018 that the real reasons behind Nikolova’s death would be swept under the rug.
‘We are the mother of covering things up,” he told the Cyprus News Agency, adding that all parties involved including CMA, police, and the attorney general’s office will have to address the problem.
The defendant remains free on a €100,000 bail and has surrendered his passport and identification documents. He is also required to report to a police station every day while his dogs, despite not belonging to a dangerous breed, must wear a dog mouthpiece and remain on leash, according to the bail terms.
The next hearing has been scheduled for February 22, the anniversary of Nikolova’s death.