New trial for colonel in Chechen's death

Rejected verdict a win for slain woman's family

March 01, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - Russia's Supreme Court threw out the verdict in the nation's most contentious criminal trial yesterday, ruling that a military court ignored procedure when it absolved a prominent army colonel of responsibility in the strangling of an 18-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000.

The ruling means that Col. Yuri Budanov, who had been declared temporarily insane at the time of the killing, will stand trial again before a new judge. It was a stunning victory for the family of the slain woman, Elza Kungayeva, and for critics who have charged that Budanov's trial was tainted by pressure from the military.

"At some stage on earth, a dictatorship of the law comes," Abdullah Khamzayev, the attorney for Kungayeva's family, said jubilantly outside the courtroom. "The law, equal for all - white, black, bald, curly, irrespective of anything."

Khamzayev was referring to a well-known pledge by President Vladimir V. Putin shortly after he took office three years ago, that the only dictatorship in the new Russia would be a dictatorship of the law.

In a telephone interview, he predicted that Budanov, who has been confined while receiving psychiatric treatment, would be found guilty in a new trial.

Budanov had admitted to strangling Kungayeva after abducting her from her home in Chechnya three years ago. He says he killed her in a fit of rage because she had been identified as a sniper for Chechen guerrillas. Her body, clad only in underwear, was found in a grave where soldiers had carried it on his orders.

A specialist's conclusion that she had been raped was later removed from a forensic autopsy report. Budanov was re-examined several times by teams of psychiatrists before the court accepted a diagnosis last December that he had been insane at the time of the murder.

In its ruling yesterday, a military collegium of the Supreme Court stated that the judge in the case had ignored evidence that Budanov had suffered no mental problems in the six months before the murder.

Khamzayev had argued that Budanov had spotted and photographed Kungayeva before her abduction, and that he had seized her for sexual purposes.

Kungayeva's father, Isa Kungayev, told Russia's NTV television network last night that he saw the ruling as an unexpected victory for the rule of law.

"When I was coming here yesterday, my younger daughter said, `Father, where are you going? There's no justice there,' " he said. "When I go back, I will tell my daughter, `Here is justice taking the upper hand, at last.' I am very happy."

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