MOSCOW – Two Russian nationalists were convicted Thursday of killing a prominent human rights lawyer and a reporter, who were gunned down in a brazen daytime attack in central Moscow more than two years ago.
After deliberating late into the night, a jury at the Moscow City Court convicted 31-year-old Nikita Tikhonov and his 26-year-old girlfriend Yevgenia Khasis in the January 2009 killing.
Investigators said Tikhonov was the masked gunman, while Khasis followed the two victims, Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, as they left a news conference and walked toward a subway station near the Kremlin.
The 34-year-old Markelov's work had angered nationalists, who had threatened him and cheered his killing in Internet comments. The lawyer also had made enemies through his work fighting for victims of rights abuses in Chechnya.
Around the time of his death, Markelov was representing the family of a Chechen teenager killed in 2000 by a Russian officer, Col. Yuri Budanov, who had won early release from prison. Markelov was working to put Budanov back behind bars. The officer had become a hero to nationalists during his trial.
Investigators said Baburova, 25, was shot because she was a witness to the murder. Her killing, though, brought further tragedy to her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.
The independent newspaper's star journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote extensively about abuses in Chechnya, was gunned down in Moscow in 2006 in a similar killing. She and Markelov had done work together.
Russia has seen a string of contract-style killings of human rights workers and journalists in recent years. Few of the killings are ever solved.
Tikhonov and Khasis, who were locked in a glass case in the courtroom throughout the 2½-month trial, hugged each other but remained calm when the verdict was read.
The jury foreman said eight of the jurors had found them guilty, while the remaining four had not.
Baburova's mother said she expected the guilty verdict.
"The real killers were in the courtroom, they got what they deserve," Larisa Baburova said.
The journalist's father, though, appeared close to tears.
"How can we be satisfied when we can't get our daughter back," said Boris Baburov.
Judge Alexander Zamashnyuk called prosecutors and defense attorneys back to the court on May 5 to discuss the "legal consequences" of the jury's decision. Tikhonov faces up to life in prison, while Khasis could be imprisoned for 20 years.
Defense lawyers said they intended to appeal.