MOSCOW — Russian police said Thursday they had found a message in support of the jailed members of the Pussy Riot protest band written in blood over the stabbed bodies of an elderly woman and her daughter.
The punk group's lawyer quickly called the message a provocation designed to discredit those who oppose the two-year sentence handed to three members of the female band for their performance of an anti-Kremlin song in a Moscow church.
And one top local investigator said the killer was probably trying to mislead police by trying to link the attack to politics.
The authorities said they found the words "Free Pussy Riot" splattered on a wall over the bodies of a 78-year-old woman and her 38-year-old daughter in the Volga River city of Kazan.
A statement from investigators said the victims came from a well-to-do family but that no clear motives for the killing had yet been found.
The women were believed to have been killed on Sunday or Monday -- just a week after a Moscow court convicted the band members of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for their protest in Russia's main cathedral.
The sentence was condemned by the West as another example of how freedoms of expression have suffered in Russia since President Vladimir Putin's initial rise to power 12 years ago.
The "punk prayer" stunt was staged in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral just weeks before Putin's March 4 election to an historic third term.
One of the band's defence attorneys called the incident an attempt by criminals to cast the supporters of Pussy Riot and the broader anti-Putin protest movement in a bad light.
"What happened in Kazan is terrible," Nikolai Polozov tweeted.
"Pussy Riot always stood for peaceful protest. This incident is either a huge provocation or the actions of a crazed man," he said.
The deputy head of the Kazan Investigative Committee appeared to agree.
"The women's killer may have been trying to mislead the investigation," RIA Novosti news agency quoted Andrei Shepitsky as saying.
He added that a check of the ransacked apartment suggested the killer was either deranged or acting under the influence of drug or alcohol.
But the chief spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church still used the incident to lash out at the Western backing the band has received.
"Any normal person would condemn what they did," Vsevolod Chaplin told Interfax.
Foreign powers are "trying to alter the historic choice of our people, forcing us on our knees and requiring us to follow the ideologies that in fact are already destroying and will soon ultimately destroy the West," he added.
A public opinio poll released Thursday by the Kremlin-linked Public Opinion Foundation showed 53 percent of respondents saying they viewed the singers' sentence as fair.
About one in four people said it was too harsh while most of the rest had no opinion.
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