The two trial weeks from July 9 to July 18 covered a variety of complexes, none of which have been brought to a conclusion. On some days three different topics were addressed and up to seven witnesses were questioned. The smouldering conflict between the interests of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and the Accessory Prosecution became increasingly obvious. A summary.
At the beginning of the hearing on July 10, the dates for the continuation of the main trial until the end 2014 were disclosed.
On July 17, co-plaintiff attorney Kienzle put forward a motion to return to the system of summons from February 28, 2013. According to this system, the officials who interrogated the defendants would be questioned first and then the various cases of murder would be addressed in chronological order. As a lot of different crime complexes were currently being dealt with, but weren’t being brought to a conclusion, the inner development of the crimes was no longer comprehensible. The trial was in jeopardy of losing its clarity (and ultimately to some extent also its evidential potency) and making it impossible for the attorneys to prepare. Presiding Judge Götzl reacted angrily, yet there has been no formal rejection of the application so far.
The hearing of witnesses and the questioning of experts concerning the crime complex Frühlingsstraße was continued. Construction workers that had been potentially endangered by the act of arson and the explosion described their schedule on the day in question. Using a great amount of photographs, a fire investigator described the source of the fire, the places where weapons had been discovered, etc. The layout of the last home of the NSU-core became visible. However, further witnesses and experts will be questioned concerning this complex and the pieces of evidence that were recovered.
The questioning of Holger G.
Several officials were summoned as witnesses to report on the interrogations of defendant Holger G. So far, G. had only spoken freely when stating his personal details and had otherwise read aloud a written statement. During the police interrogations, G. had come clean only reluctantly and had owned up to his deeds only bit by bit. For example, he had initially stated not to have had any contact with Thorsten Heise concerning the trio’s possible escape abroad, as Heise had been “out of his league.” At a later point however, he did admit to having been in contact with Heise. Moreover, G.’s statements contained several contradictions that could not be accounted for solely by the defendant’s cumbersome memory, but indicated that G. is still attempting to play down his own involvement and is possibly concealing previously unknown crimes and clues. An official of the BKA voiced serious doubts concerning G.’s statement to have visited Zschäpe, Böhnhardt and Mundlos’s flat in Zwickau only twice.
In light of his unwillingness to give evidence and his embeddedness in the extreme right at the time, G’s alleged “exit” from the right-wing scene seems implausible. He stated to have spent his 30th birthday (in 2004) in the “Brown House” in Jena together with Wohlleben and many other neo-Nazis. Numerous participations in neo-Nazi marches have been documented at least until the end of 2005. Together with Wohlleben and the trio, he took part in indicatory discussions about the use of violence, and his consideration of getting rid of the delivered weapon show that he was aware of possible consequences.
According to the BKA, G.’s statements significantly helped on the investigations. He had heavily incriminated Zschäpe, stating that she had had an equal role within the NSU-trio. The picture that he drew of Mundlos and Böhnhardt didn’t correspond at all with that of a silent killer-duo, as they had allegedly boasted to him about a pump gun and various crimes. Regarding such statements it seems increasingly unlikely that Zschäpe and other supporters of the NSU, such as Wohlleben, did not know anything of the murders, attacks and bank robberies.
The defending attorneys’ strategies
Surprisingly, André E.’s attorney put forward an application for her and her client’s release from the trial as long as crimes were being dealt with that André E. was not accused of. As was to be expected, Götzl denied the application. Otherwise, E.’s attorney remained as silent as before.
Zschäpe and Wohlleben’s defending attorneys actively participated in the questioning of witnesses and experts. Their questioning of the BKA official Sch., who had interrogated Holger G. several times, focused especially on the question whether all procedures had been carried out in a legitimate manner. They will attempt to disallow the use of statements made by Holger G. incriminating their clients.
Two of the nine racist murders were addressed this week – the murder of Enver Şimşek on September 9, 2000, and the murder of Habil Kılıç on August 29, 2001.
Police officers who had inspected the crime scene in the case of Enver Şimşek and witnesses who had first found the body described the scene of crime in disturbing detail. Other witnesses had seen men in biking apparel at the florist’s vehicle and had thus given valuable leads that were never seriously pursued.
In the murder case of Kılıç there had also been references to two young male bicyclists dressed as couriers. They had first been seen cycling to the scene of crime and shortly afterwards as they were cycling away. Mr Kılıç’s murder was described as “professional”, as the victim had first been shot in the head when standing, and once more as he was lying on the floor.
First testimonies of victims’ relatives
The first relatives of murder victims to testify in the trial were Habil Kılıç’s widow, who had been in Turkey at the time of the murder, as well as his mother-in-law. The widow and mother-in-law’s descriptions indicated the murder’s effects on the whole family. This concerned not only insinuations and accusations on part of the investigating officers, but also among others the fact that the granddaughter had been urged to switch schools – based on the claim that there was a risk of attacks on the school.
The Presiding Judge’s behaviour during the questioning was rather insensitive and did not take into consideration the traumatising experiences with German authorities described by Mrs Kılıç. Thus Götzl asked the witness right at the beginning to state her place of residence and was not prepared to take into account the relatives’ concerns. It also has to be questioned whether it was necessary for the trial to show pictures of the undressed murder victim from the scene of crime in front of his relatives and the general public.
The investigating authorities
Regarding the murder of Habil Kılıç, the well-known and retired murder investigator Josef Wilfling reported almost without any self-criticism how meticulously the murder case had been investigated – almost exclusively in the direction of organized crime. When presented with statements he had made, stating that they were searching for “mulattos” or someone with a “Mongols beard”, he repeated his justification: “Don’t pretend as if there is no such thing as a Turkish drug mafia.” The fact that he viewed the reported cyclists, who are now presumed to have been Mundlos and Böhnhardt, merely as potential witnesses reveals the ignorance of his and most other investigations regarding the danger of right-wing terrorism.
By contrast, the questioning of the BKA officer Sch., who had interrogated Holger G., rather illustrates the authorities’ amateurism: The BKA obviously neglected to make a lot of potentially important inquiries. Officer Sch.’s assessment that Holger G. would have nothing to fear from known militant neo-Nazi Thorsten Heise after statements that involved the latter seems remarkable.
Federal Prosecutor’s Office vs. Accessory Prosecution vs. Götzl
The conflict between the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and the Accessory Prosecution has become clear in several points. The Federal Prosecution has endeavoured to object to any of the Accessory Prosecution’s questions concerning the questionable police investigations. On the other hand, some co-plaintiffs explained that the question had to be resolved whether police authorities were still adhering to their suspicions against the murder victims and their families. Nonetheless, Federal Prosecutor Diemer indicated that the Federal Prosecution would object to any questions that did not refer specifically to the question of the defendants’ guilt. In reference to the “requirement of swiftness”, all these questions concerning the authorities’ “investigative activities” would have to be confined solely to the investigation committees. Finally, on July 18, co-plaintiff attorney Dierbach submitted a statement in which she explained – in contradiction to the Federal Prosecution – that this trial also had to serve the purpose of “creating legal peace.” It had to be made possible here to rehabilitate the co-plaintiffs who had been exposed to racist prejudice. The victims’ relatives had been denied precisely such a platform in the investigation committees. The authorities’ mistakes were also relevant for the determination of the penalty, as the question of guilt also had to be judged with regard to the pressure of prosecution the defendants either had or had not felt. In particular however, the requirement of swiftness could not be allowed to obstruct clarification.
Over the last week, Presiding Judge Götzl, who had so far granted the Accessory Prosecution a lot of room for questions, flared up several times against the co-plaintiffs’ attorneys, in addition to his rather insensitive manner when questioning Habil Kılıç’s relatives. Such was the case when co-plaintiff attorney Dierbach repeatedly attempted to bring forward a motion. Moreover, when attorney Kienzle put forward a sensible application to call a witness, Götzl became annoyed and made false accusations (“You are on vacation”) against the attorney.
Conclusion and outlook
The conflict between the Federal Prosecution, which is attempting to confine the trial to the crimes that the five defendants are accused of, and the Accessory Prosecution, which aims at complete clarification and “the creation of legal peace” for its clients, will surely continue throughout the whole trial. At this point, a public expression of solidarity with the victims of the NSU and public pressure are necessary. Even a self-critical society should demand maximal clarification. Should the defendant Holger G. indeed hope for a reduced sentence due to leniency and his status as a “dropout”, he has to contribute to the establishment of the truth and also face up to the countless – so far unanswered – questions in court.