The Murder of a Russian Boxer

Sergei Kobozev Lost His Last Fight—To Mobsters

Prosecutors used Spitchenko's testimony to support their theory that when the hoods saw Kobozev at the auto-body shop, the Brigade's 24-year-old bad boy Nosov was still smarting from a bar brawl he was involved in that Kobozev had broken up at Paradise a couple of days before. Defense lawyers attempted to portray the brawl as an extension of Spitchenko's rumored feud with the club's former owner, Valera Zimnovitsch. A sources familiar with the case doubts the prosecution's theory that Nosov's loss of face to Kobozev at Paradise was the only motive for the killing.

Daniel Nobel, defense attorney for Ermichine, says a court ruling on his cross-examination of Spitchenko prevented him from countering the mob boss's testimony against his client. "He's basically a dirtbag," Nobel says of Spitchenko. "But he claims to have undergone this very radical change of character since he was arrested." Though Nobel says he considers the Kobozev murder a secondary element of the much larger case against his client, he speculated that Kobozev's relationship with Paradise owner Zemnovitsch might not have been entirely innocent. "In his testimony, Zemnovitsch described his relationship with Kobozev as 'friendly,' "says Nobel. "I would hazard a guess that if you dig deeply enough you might unearth at least a friendly relationship between Zemnovitsch and a lot of the people the government is currently investigating."

Nakhman Gluzman, a worker at the garage where Kobozev was killed, testified that the boxer did not seem surprised when Nosov and his friends showed up. Instead of kicking up a fuss, Kobozev allowed Nosov to throw an arm around his shoulder and guide him to a small office attached to the garage. In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Buehler attributed the false camaraderie to Kobozev's overconfidence in his fighting skills. "As a professional fighter, Kobozev probably thought he had nothing to worry about," said Buehler.

The truth about what Kobozev and Nosov discussed may never be revealed. What is certain, at least according to testimony, is that in the heat of the struggle Nosov pulled out a gun and shot Kobozev in the back. Minutes after the shot, Gozman and Nosov hefted the crumpled boxer to their Grand Cherokee and dumped him in the back. Still conscious during the first few minutes of his journey to his grave in Spitchenko's backyard, prosecutors said, Kobozev "begged for his life." But a mercy plea to Spitchenko's boys proved a waste of his breath.

After depositing Kobozev's black-and-white 1988 Chevy Blazer just a few miles from the garage at a 24-hour restaurant called the Petrina Diner, the men drove around aimlessly for hours, according to testimony, while they cooked up a plan to get rid of Kobozev's body. It was late at night when they finally arrived on Spitchenko's doorstep in New Jersey looking for a way out. In his testimony, Spitchenko insisted that he did not take part in the actual murder and that it was Ermichine who broke Kobozev's neck. Whatever the case, that night in Jersey, Kobozev was KO'd for good.

With Gozman still on the loose, the only thing Kobozev's friends and family have to look forward to is Nosov and Ermichine's sentencing in May. Seven years after the boxer's death the only thing those who knew him are certain of is that Kobozev did not go down without a fight. "Even when he lost, he maintained his dignity. He kept his head up," Gallagher said.

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