Russian nationalist gets life for killing attorney and reporter

A young man with nationalist views has been sentenced to life in prison for shooting dead a lawyer who specialized in race hate cases and a journalist who covered them.

The convict’s girlfriend was sentenced to 18 years as an accomplice in the crime.

On Friday the Moscow City Court found Nikita Tikhonov guilty of murdering lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasiya Baburova and sentenced him to life in prison. Tikhonov’s girlfriend, Evgeniya Khasis, was found guilty in assisting in the killings and sentenced to 18 years in a penal colony.

The defense will appeal the sentence, insisting on complete innocence of both Tikhonov and Khasis.

Stanislav Markelov, who specialized in cases involving nationalism and race hate, was shot dead on a Moscow street in January 2009. Anastasiya Baburova, a young reporter who worked with Novaya Gazeta newspaper was killed with him. The killer shot them in the heads with a pistol in the midst of a crowd and walked away before anyone could detain him. 

The investigation put forward the version that Markelov was killed because of his professional activities – the lawyer often defended people from the Caucasus region, as well as members of radical anti-fascist groups. According to the same line of thought, Baburova was killed simply because she could identify the killer.

Tikhonov and Khasis were detained in November 2009 and, very soon afterwards, Tikhonov confessed to killing the lawyer and journalist. But later he retracted his testimony and said he took the blame only because investigators threatened to apply various sanctions, including violence, to his girlfriend. He also said that the state-appointed lawyer did not protect him but instead co-operated with investigators.Khasis has always denied any involvement in the murder.

Tikhonov, however, pleaded guilty to forgery and illegal possession and trade of firearms – some weapons were found in his flat, including an old Browning pistol that, according to forensic tests, was used in the assassination of Markelov and Baburova. 

One of the main arguments of the prosecution was based on the testimony of Ilya Goryachev, the leader of a small Russian nationalist group called Russkiy Obraz [Russian Image]. He told the investigators that both of the accused had told him about the murder. At the same time, after giving this testimony, Goryachev left Russia and sent the court a letter from abroad in which he claimed he had been pressured and blackmailed by investigators and what he had said about the accused was not true.

Tikhonov also said during the proceedings that Goryachev’s words against him were false and that it was Goryachev who had given him the murder weapon after the killing had taken place.

The jury pronounced the guilty verdict in the case on April 28, but the controversy surrounding the case caused two jury members to be dismissed from the panel at their own request. The defense subsequently sought a jury dismissal, but failed in its bid for a retrial.

Tikhonov and Khasis also slit their wrists before the final round of the hearings, but doctors said the wounds were not deep and the act looked more like a publicity stunt rather than an actual suicide attempt.

The court also ruled that the convicts must pay 2 million rubles to Baburova’s parents to compensate for moral damages. Earlier, the parents said that they would use the money to fund an award to poor students in memory of their daughter.

The defense called the whole process “buffoonery” and appealed the sentence right after it was pronounced. “We will go up to Strasbourg with this case as this should not be left without attention,” Interfax news agency quoted defense lawyer Aleksandr Vasilyev as saying.

The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta said on Friday that it was too early to make statements over the court sentence and that he did not experience any exceptional joy. Russian Human Rights campaigners said they were satisfied with the sentence. The head of the “For Human Rights” movement, Lev Ponomarev, said that he considered the sentence to be just, as he had no reason to doubt the monitors who were closely following the process.

“The sentence is tough, but I think they deserve it, because it was not a murder committed in the affected state, but a premeditated act, a political assassination,” said the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva. She said that she had doubts on whether Tikhonov and Khasis were the real killers but investigators presented sufficient proof of their guilt.