HMA v Nikola Borislavov Zhulev

At the High Court in Edinburgh on 5 May 2016, Lady Rae sentenced Nikola Zhulev to life imprisonment with a punishment part of 21 years after the accused was found guilty of the murder of Alan Gardner.

On sentencing, Lady Rae made the following statement in court: 

“Nikola Borislavov Zhulev, you were convicted unanimously by a jury of the murder of a vulnerable man, in poor health, who mistakenly provided you with accommodation in his own home after you claimed you had nowhere to go. That decision led to his death because it was clear from the evidence led at trial that you mercilessly exploited him, stole from him and planned to kill him.  

Although there was no evidence led on your behalf at the trial, it seems that, according to what you now say to the social worker who prepared the background report for this court, you claim, amongst other things, there was no plan to kill the deceased but you contend that you hit him in the course of an argument, after which he had an epileptic fit. 

You fail to explain however, if that was truly the case and if he was the good friend you say he was, why you failed to seek medical help. I also note that you now see fit to attempt to blacken the character of the deceased.  

Having regard to the evidence led in this trial, including that from your Bulgarian friend who said that you were in the habit of lying and could not be trusted, I find your so-called explanation entirely incredible. This was, in my view, a planned premeditated killing. 

You made a number of what I would describe as ‘chilling’ searches on the internet, commencing four days after you moved in to the deceased’s home. In the course of these researches you sought information on various ways of causing injury or killing, including,  use of a knife, breaking someone’s neck, hanging, blunt force injury to the head and finally suffocation.  

You attempted to dispose of or sell property apparently belonging to or in the lawful custody of the deceased. After killing him, which you admitted doing, you then made efforts to cover up your crime, including digging a grave. Thereafter you planned to leave the country. 

I note that you appear to express some remorse to the social worker, however that is based on your wholly false account of what happened and I find it impossible to accept that a man who plans to kill a defenceless, vulnerable man after admittedly stealing from him is truly remorseful for his crime. You are clearly a deceitful, calculating and callous individual. 

In respect of charge 1, the murder charge, there is only one sentence which I can impose and that is life imprisonment, although I require to make an order setting what is called a punishment part which is the minimum period of time that you require to serve in prison to satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence. 

Having regard to what is contained in charge 2, I intend to take that into account when assessing an appropriate punishment part and I shall increase the period I would otherwise have imposed on charge 1. I am aware that that enhancement must reflect only the elements of retribution and deterrence. In view of that increase I shall impose a separate but concurrent sentence on charge two. 

The effect of this will be that you will not be eligible for parole or release until the whole of the punishment part has expired. Thereafter it will be for the Parole Board to consider whether you can be released on a life licence with appropriate conditions.  

I sentence you to life imprisonment and in view of the nature of this killing, the surrounding circumstances all as disclosed in the evidence, the level of planning involved and your attempts at covering up your crime, the punishment part I intend to impose is 21 years. On charge 2, the sentence will be two years. 

Those periods will run concurrently and will date from 25 April 2015 when you were first remanded in custody.”