Russian officer convicted of slaying Chechen woman

Saturday, July 26, 2003

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A Russian colonel was convicted Friday of kidnapping and murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman and sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security prison.

Col. Yuri Budanov, the first Russian officer to be prosecuted for a crime against a civilian in Chechnya, admitted strangling Heda Kungayeva, saying he did it in a fit of rage during an interrogation.

In December, a court ruled that Budanov was temporarily insane at the time and was not criminally responsible. However, the Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered a new trial.

Budanov's trial has been widely watched throughout Russia for a signal into how the military will handle reports of abuses in Chechnya, which have undermined the Kremlin's efforts to build trust in the war-ravaged republic.

The military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don ruled Friday that Budanov was sane at the time of the 2000 killing. It sentenced him to prison and stripped him of his military rank and Order of Courage.

Judge Vladimir Bukreyev said he based his decision on a new psychiatric report delivered to the court last month that concluded Budanov was sane at the time of the attack but was in a "highly agitated state."

The judge also rejected defense claims that Budanov believed Kungayeva was a sniper. Kungayeva's family has said she was dragged from her home in a Chechen village, raped and murdered during a drunken rampage by soldiers.

Budanov often erupted into outbursts during the trial and was escorted out of the courtroom.

He also routinely stuffed cotton balls in his ears during proceedings.

Budanov's 10-year sentence will include the approximately three years he already has spent in custody. The court also ordered him to pay more than $16,500 to Kungayeva's family for moral damages.

A lawyer for the Chechen woman's family asked the court to sentence the officer to more than 15 years in prison, and the prosecution asked for 12 years.

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