Russian court may defer Pussy Riot member sentence

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BEREZNIKI, Russia (AP) — A member of feminist punk band Pussy Riot asked a Russian court on Wednesday to let her serve the rest of her two-year sentence when her 5-year-old son is a teenager, arguing that separation from her child now will do irreparable psychological damage.

Maria Alekhina is petitioning the court in Berezniki, a remote Ural mountains town near where she is imprisoned, to make the extremely rare decision to let her defer her sentence until her young son is 14.

She was convicted last year along with two other band members of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an anti-President Vladimir Putin stunt in Russia's main cathedral. One of the women had her sentence suspended on appeal.

Alekhina told the court on Wednesday that while she wants her sentence deferred, she refused to plead guilty.

"No one will force me to say I'm guilty — I have nothing to repent for," she said.

Her 5-year-old son, Filipp, is going through his formative years and cannot be without her, she said.

"I'm in a situation where I have to prove here that my son needs me, which is obvious," she said.

Several dozen supporters and journalists gathered outside the Berezniki court building, which was guarded by riot police — a rare situation for the small town.

Sentence deferrals are uncommon. In fact, there are several prison colonies for female convicts with small children who raise their babies behind bars.

In the most publicized precedent, a woman in Eastern Siberia who drove her car onto a sidewalk, killing one woman and leaving another confined to a wheelchair, had her sentence deferred in 2010 because she had just had a baby. The woman, who did not admit guilt or apologize to the families of the victims, turned out to be a daughter of a senior local official, sparking suspicions of selective justice.

The ruling in Alekhina's case was expected later on Wednesday.

The Pussy Riot members performed a "punk prayer" at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, pleading with the Virgin Mary for deliverance from Putin. Yekaterina Samutsevich's sentence was suspended in October after she argued she was thrown out by guards before she could take part in the stunt.

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Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.

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