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Court rules Russian colonel insane

Budanov was the first Russian soldier to be publicly tried for human rights abuses in Chechnya
Budanov was the first Russian soldier to be publicly tried for human rights abuses in Chechnya

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ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A Russian colonel who strangled a Chechen girl has been deemed not to have been criminally responsible and has been sent to a psychiatric hospital.

The controversial decision was made by a court on Tuesday following four separate evaluations of Colonel Yuri Budanov's mental health in recent months.

Budanov faced up to 12 years in prison for strangling Heda Kungayeva, an 18-year-old Chechen woman.

Budanov, the commander of a tank regiment, had said he suspected the teenager was a rebel sniper who had killed some of his comrades.

Kungayeva's family says she was dragged from her home at night, raped and murdered during a drunken rampage by soldiers.

During his trial at the beginning of 2001, Budanov admitted strangling Kungayeva, saying he was in a rage during her interrogation.

He was initially accused of rape and murder, but he was officially charged with murder and abduction.

Court-ordered psychiatrists conducted four evaluations of Budanov's health.

The first ruled that he was sane, the second ruling was never made public, and the two most recent examinations concluded that he was temporarily insane at the time of the murder.

In his closing statement Monday, defence lawyer Anatoly Mukhin asked the court to release Budanov from jail, saying he needed urgent medical aid.

He said that Budanov should not face charges of abduction, because he was following commanders' orders under Russian anti-terrorism laws and had arrested someone he thought was a rebel.

Budanov was not in court to hear Tuesday's ruling, nor was Kungayeva's relatives.

However, about 50 activists from the Russian National Unity ultranationalist group, wearing black armbands with the group's insignia, stood outside the court to demonstrate moral support for Budanov.

Budanov was the first Russian soldier to be publicly tried for human rights abuses in the war with Chechnya.

Human rights groups regarded his trial as a litmus test of the Russian government's resolve to discipline troops.

Even pro-Kremlin Chechen officials warned that a light sentence or acquittal would ignite furor among Chechens.

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