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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Budanov Prosecutor in Court

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Southern Russia -- A new prosecutor on Monday took over the trial of Colonel Yury Budanov, who is charged with murdering a Chechen woman. The change raises new questions about the prosecution of a case that is seen as a bellwether for the handling of military crimes in Chechnya.

The new prosecutor, Colonel Vladimir Milovanov, appeared in court for the first time just a day before the verdict against Budanov was scheduled to be announced. His appointment followed unusual public criticism about the treatment of the case by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who suggested that the defendant was being prosecuted too leniently.

The previous prosecutor in the case, Sergei Nazarov, had recommended that Budanov be sentenced to three years in prison but be made eligible for immediate amnesty -- provoking harsh criticism from human rights advocates who accused the state of letting Budanov get away with murder.

Budanov, who admitted strangling 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva two years ago, is the first Russian officer to face a public trial for alleged military crimes in Chechnya.

Judge Viktor Kostin said Monday that Nazarov had retired from the prosecutors' service on June 19. Milovanov, the new prosecutor, told the court that "there have been some changes in the assessment of the actions of the defendant."

However, Milovanov refused comment to the media, saying the new assessment had been filed to the court in documents that have not been made public.

In a brief final statement Monday, Budanov expressed regret only about the length of the trial.

"I apologize before the court for the fact that my case took so much time to consider -- a year and a half -- and for the efforts ... it took to accomplish," Budanov said, according to his attorney Anatoly Mukhin.

Budanov said he killed Kungayeva in a rage because he thought she was a rebel sniper. Kungayeva's family denies the accusation and says she was dragged from her home at night, raped and murdered during a drunken rampage by soldiers.

Budanov's lawyers have sought to use an insanity defense and Russia's leading psychiatric institute has supported Budanov's contention of temporary insanity.

However, Ustinov said last month that he did not understand why an earlier exam showing that Budanov was sane had not formed a bigger part of the trial. Ustinov's office had also been critical of the earlier prosecutor dropping some charges or replacing them with milder ones.

Budanov had initially been charged with rape, but prosecutors later dropped the charge.