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Russian Officer Sentenced for Murder of Chechen Woman - 2003-07-25

A military court in southern Russia has sentenced an army officer to 10 years in prison for murdering a Chechen woman. The case has been closely watched as a test of Moscow's commitment to punishing rights abuses in Chechnya.

The military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don returned a verdict of guilty on Friday, saying that Colonel Yuri Budanov was sane when he strangled Elsa Kungayeva, 18, more than three years ago. He was stationed in Chechnya at the time.

Last year, a court found Budanov not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him held for psychiatric treatment. However, the verdict was overturned by Russia's Supreme Court.

In addition to the prison sentence, the judge in the retrial ordered Budanov stripped of his rank and the Order of Courage award he received for fighting in the separatist republic.

The 10-year sentence, which is to be served out in a high-security prison, was based on a statement Budanov gave in March of 2000, the day after Ms. Kungayeva's murder.

Budanov has admitted strangling her, but says he was temporarily insane at the time and thought she was a rebel sniper.

He has undergone numerous psychiatric evaluations and reports presented during the first trial supported his claim of insanity. But the evaluations in the second trial contradicted the previous psychiatric reports and the insanity claim was rejected.

Budanov has strongly objected to his second trial, often interrupting the proceedings with outbursts that led to his removal from the courtroom. But he remained silent Friday as the sentence was read.

His lawyer later criticized the ruling as harsh and unjustified, and said his client would appeal. Budanov has already spent more than three years in pre-trial detention. That means that if Friday's ruling stands, he will have less than seven more years to spend in jail.