Lawyer Fighting Budanov's Release Shot Dead

MTInvestigators standing over the body of Stanislav Markelov, lawyer for the family of slain Chechen woman Elza Kungayeva, in central Moscow on Monday.
A lawyer for the family of a Chechen woman murdered by former army Colonel Yury Budanov was shot dead Monday in central Moscow after holding a news conference decrying Budanov's early release from prison last week.

Stanislav Markelov, who was representing the family of Elza Kungayeva, was shot dead by a masked assailant at about 2:30 p.m. Monday on Ulitsa Prechistenka, near Kropotkinskaya metro station, a city police spokesman told The Moscow Times.

A freelance writer for the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Anastasia Baburova, was struck in the head by a bullet and died from the injury Monday evening in the hospital.

Markelov, 34, was slain just a few blocks away from the Independent Press Center, where, immediately prior to the attack, he had held a press conference condemning an Ulyanovsk court's decision to release Budanov on parole.

Budanov, convicted in July 2005 for the murder of Kungayeva, walked free from an Ulyanovsk prison Thursday morning, sparking outrage among the victim's family and senior Chechen officials.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for strangling Kungayeva, 18, in Chechnya in 2000, but the court last month ordered his early release, citing good behavior in prison and more than five years of time served in pretrial detention.

Budanov, who has maintained that he believed Kungayeva was a rebel sniper and said he strangled her in a fit of rage during an interrogation, has become a rallying figure for Russian nationalists who claim that his conviction was merely an attempt to appease the Chechen leadership.

Markelov made unsuccessful attempts to have the court's decision overturned, and Kungayeva's father, Visa Kungayev, said Monday that the lawyer had received threats last week.

"I have no doubts that he was killed for his professional activities, that he was killed because of the Budanov case," Kungayev told RIA-Novosti.

Kungayev said he received text messages from Markelov last week in which the lawyer said he was being threatened.

Viktoria Tsyplenkova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee, said investigators were looking at all possible motives in the contract-style murder, including possible links to his professional activities.

Alexei Dulimov, a lawyer for Budanov, said he was certain that his client had "nothing to do" with Markelov's murder.

"[Budanov] didn't have the slightest thought about taking revenge on Markelov," Dulimov told Interfax. "[Budanov] doesn't know him and has never seen him."

Markelov left the press center shortly after 2 p.m. Monday after giving several follow-up interviews to reporters, said a woman who answered the telephone there. She declined to give her name.

A witness told NTV television that a man wearing a green ski mask approached Markelov from behind and shot him in the head at point-blank range. The gunman fled into Kropotkinskaya metro station and presumably left the area by train, NTV reported.

For more than two hours after the attack, Markelov's corpse lay at the foot of the stairs of building No. 1 on Ulitsa Prechistenka, his head resting in a pool of blood as investigators examined the crime scene.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika has taken personal control over the investigation, a spokesman for his office said Tuesday evening.

Human rights activists expressed grief and outrage over Markelov's death. "Markelov was not only a lawyer but an ombudsman," Oleg Orlov of the human rights watchdog Memorial said in a telephone interview.

"The [slaying] of people like Markelov is a shame to our country," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of Moscow Helsinki Group, Interfax reported.

Memorial activists and other human rights groups said they would lay flowers at the crime scene Tuesday.

Budanov was arrested in 2000, but a court concluded in 2002 that he could not be held criminally responsible because of brain injuries he had sustained in combat during federal forces' second military campaign in Chechnya.

That ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003.

Budanov's appeal for early release was his fifth, with all of his earlier requests being rejected. The Ulyanovsk court's decision to release him prompted large-scale protests last month in Grozny.