The trial of four suspects, accused of aiding a neo-Nazi terrorist cell, has adjourned for a month-long summer break after being in session for 32 days. So far, the accused have largely refused to answer questions.
Judge Manfred Götzl on Tuesday concluded the opening phase of the trial against four alleged accomplices of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a right-wing terrorist group responsible for a decade-long racist killing spree that took the lives of eight ethnic Turks, one ethnic Greek and a German policewoman.
In the trial, five people stand accused of aiding and abetting the NSU murders: Beate Zschäpe Carsten S., Holger G., Ralf Wohlleben and Andre E. The proceeding has zeroed in on Zschäpe, who is alleged to have been a founding member of the NSU.
Although she is not accused of having directly participated in the murders, state prosecutors believe Zschäpe helped cover up the tracks of the NSU’s two gunmen, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. The two shooters committed suicide in November 2011, after they attracted police attention by robbing a bank in the eastern German city of Eisenach.
Zschäpe is accused of having subsequently burnt down their apartment in Zwickau, also in eastern Germany. So far, she has remained silent during the trial. Her lawyers have said she won’t comment on the charges against her.
But her co-accused, Carsten S., has delivered some 26 hours of testimony to the Munich court. The 33-year-old former neo-Nazi has admitted to having provided a Ceska model pistol with a silencer to the NSU.
Last June, Holger G. read a prepared statement to court, admitting that he and Zschäpe had supported the NSU for years. He said that he had provided Böhnhardt and Mundlos with 3,000 deutschmark, his passport and his driver’s license. Holger G. also said that he provided the two gunmen with a pistol, after being asked to do so by his co-accused, Ralf Wohlleben. But Holger G. claims he knew nothing of the terrorist attacks. Since reading his statement, he has remained silent.
Wohlleben, a former official in the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party, and Andre E. have refused to make any statements to the court or answer questions.
Respect grows for Götzl
The trial in Munich got off to a rough start in May. Judge Götzl originally came under harsh criticism for having refused to re-assign courtroom seating to journalists covering the trial, in order to make room for Turkish media. Ultimately, the issue was taken to Germany’s highest court, which ordered Götzl to scrap the seating assignments and re-assign them to the press. The start of the trial was delayed for weeks because of the dispute.
But increasingly, both the state prosecutors and the defendants’ lawyers have complimented Götzl for the way he has conducted the trial’s proceedings since the seating fiasco.
“I have the impression that the judge is trying to conduct an extensive evidentiary hearing, so that at the end, he can make a no-nonsense consideration of the evidence,” said defense attorney Stefan Hachmeister. “Götzl is a paragon of thoroughness.”
The court is scheduled to reconvene in September, after a month-long summer break. Götzl has scheduled sessions for the trial through the end of December 2014.
slk/tm (AFP, dpa)
Deutsche Welle is bound by German law and the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases. In the case of Beate Zschäpe, an exception was made because a warrant for her arrest had been issued in 2011, and at the time the German press determined it was in the public interest to reveal her full name. Ralf Wohlleben is considered a public figure due to his former role in the National Democratic Party, and as such his full name can be revealed.