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Inside the Bizarre Sequence of Events That Landed Former U.S. Marine Robert Gilman in Russian Jail

28-year-old US citizen Robert Gilman, accused of using violence against a police officer, arrives for hearing on his case in the Central District Court, in Voronezh, Russia.
28-year-old US citizen Robert Gilman, accused of using violence against a police officer, arrives for hearing on his case in the Central District Court, in Voronezh, Russia.

Andrey Arhipov/Sputnik via AP Robert Gilman

The trial of Robert Gilman, from Dracut, Massachusetts, took place last week in the Central District Court of Voronezh, Russia. It concluded on Sept. 22 with prosecutors recommending four-and-a-half years of a maximum five-year sentence.

Gilman, whose social media platforms say he is fond of traveling, was visiting Russia when he was arrested on Jan. 17. He had been staying in Sochi but had to journey by train to Moscow before flying home to replace his damaged passport at the U.S Embassy.

When his train stopped at Voronezh station, fellow passengers called the transport police claiming that the American, who has a degree in cybersecurity from Western Governors University, had been drinking and was creating a disturbance.

The ex-Marine, 28, was arrested for "petty hooliganism" and taken to the local police station in a state of advanced inebriation. (He later suggested in court that the vodka he drank had been poisoned, and claimed to recall nothing of the incident.)

RELATED: 'Forgotten' American Woman Jailed in Russia with Brittney Griner Tried to Flee with U.S. Help Before Arrest

A police officer who was present when Gilman was first brought into the station stated in court that shortly after his arrest, Gilman "was sitting in handcuffs on the bench for detainees but was constantly throwing up. He then fell off the bench and while lying on his back he kicked out twice at the patrol officer standing next to him."

The officer was later found to have suffered "bruises and abrasions," and while they were determined to be minor in nature, they were enough to get Gilman charged under section 1, article 318 of the Russian Criminal Code with "the use of violence with respect to a representative of authority."

More than eight months later, Gilman remains in custody on the charge and faces several more years of imprisonment if prosecutors get their way.

Natalia Filimonova, an activist with Russian NGO "Russia Behind Bars" who has also been assisting in the case of jailed American Sarah Krivanek, explains to PEOPLE: "Russia has cracked down hard on this law in connection with the public protests following the situation in Ukraine. You only have to throw a plastic cup at a police officer nowadays to be sent to jail."

RELATED: U.S. Citizen Sarah Krivanek Breaks Her Silence with Letter Sent from Russian Prison: 'The Road Has Been Very Hard'

Gilman's lawyer, Valery Ivannikov, tells PEOPLE in a phone call that his client is "doing OK. Holding up. Although it's a very difficult situation."

"Robert is in contact with his parents in America and other family members in Russia but unfortunately they can't call him direct, only relay messages through me," Ivannikov adds.

When the U.S. Embassy was contacted by Kommersant for comment, press spokesperson Jason Rebholz said: "We take our responsibility to assist US citizens abroad seriously. We are monitoring the situation." It's the same response PEOPLE has received from State Department officials when asked about Krivanek's case.

trevor reed
trevor reed

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images Trevor Reed

Trevor Reed, another former Marine, was sentenced to nine years in prison in July 2020 after being accused of endangering the "life and health" of Russian police officers after drinking heavily. Reed was released on April 27 following a top-level prisoner exchange with Konstantin Yaroshenko, who had been accused of drug smuggling and detained in the U.S. He later said he believed he had been arrested as a bargaining chip on trumped up charges.

A third former Marine, Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 for alleged espionage also believes he was imprisoned on false charges to be used as a potential pawn in an exchange deal. He is still serving a nine-year sentence, but the White House has been in negotiations with Russia to exchange Whelan and Brittney Griner for Russian citizen Viktor Bout, who's imprisoned in the United States.

As yet, there has been no international news coverage — apart from in Russian media outlets — on the case of Gilman. There have also been no public appeals from his family and friends in the U.S.

RELATED: Former Marine Trevor Reed Released from Russia in Prisoner Swap: 'Like a Movie,' He Says

The first hearing for Gilman was on April 19, during which, according to Voronezh Bezformata, "Anti-American protests took place outside the courtroom and were dispersed by police as the protesters were heckling American diplomats who had arrived to attend the court case."

The former infantry rifleman pleaded not guilty. He wasn't granted bail because he had no place of residence in the country, and the judge deemed him to be "accused of a crime that poses a danger to society."

At the following hearing on May 23, Gilman pleaded guilty but said "it was an accident."

In a videoed interview with a local journalist from Bloknot Voronezh, filmed while Gilman stands inside the defendant's cage in the courtroom, he is asked, "So you believe you were poisoned?" Gilman answers: "I not only know it, I also know that if you'd done an objective chemical analysis you'd have known that for sure. But perhaps the standards of your trial procedures are not quite up to … well, you know."

When asked if he remembered anything he says: "I have very little recollection about what happened."

He was also asked how he was finding detention and replied: "I'm OK. I'm in a cell with five other guys. You get all sorts…"

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The officer who was kicked, Lieut. Sergei Strelnikov, dropped all charges against the American during the latest court hearing. He previously told Russian outlet RIAVoronezh that in his opinion Gilman "has already answered for what he did by being kept so long in a pretrial detention center."

Strelnikov did not require medical attention after being kicked on the shin, but Kommersant reports that Gilman himself needed urgent medical attention as he was vomiting violently and blacking out.

This latest hearing has been postponed for four months either because the presiding judge was "too busy" or because the four witnesses from the transport police could not be persuaded to attend, Russian media reports.

Filimonova explains: "Even if a so-called victim of assault drops the charges, and the witnesses fail to appear, the trial will still go ahead."

"There might be a political aspect to this," she adds, "but we can only hope that the judge doesn't hand down such a harsh punishment of four-and-a-half years to Robert when it comes to sentencing."

Ivannikov, who says that American diplomats will travel down for the Friday trial from Moscow, has already put forward his defense. "The court will look at both arguments on Sept. 30 and come to their decision. If Robert doesn't agree with the sentence, I will appeal it."