31 July 2013

On the murder of Habil Kilic – and on the media hype surrounding the change of office of Zschäpe defence counsel Anja Sturm

Several witnesses and expert witnesses testified on the murder of Habil Kilic today.

The trial day began with the testimony of a pathologist on the post mortem and of a weapons expert on a reconstruction of the crime. According to their testimony, the murder of Habil Kilic – the fourth in the series of NSU murders – also had the appearance of a professional assassination: one shot to the victim’s head, a second shot to the back of the head from a short distance to ensure his death. In contrast to the first three murders, no shell casings were found at the scene – apparently the killers had put a plastic bag over the gun.

Three witnesses also testified – a lady who had seen two suspicious bicyclists close to the crime scene, followed by a neighbor and a postman who found the dying Kilic in his shop and called the police. The testimony again afforded glimpses into the way these crimes were investigated: The first witness had stated at the crime scene that the cyclists had looked “Eastern European” to her. In the notes of the police officer who questioned her, this became “foreign, possibly Turks” – something she never said to the police, the witness testified today. How this “possibly Turks” found its way into the notes of the policeman is something that will have to be cleared up by calling the police officer as a witness, as was indeed suggested by the defence.

Some of the media see a big scandal relating to the trial after it became known that Zschäpe’s defence counsel Anja Sturm was leaving her law offices in Berlin and moving into the law offices of co-defence counsel Heer in Cologne. Sturm had stated in an interview with Berlin daily Tagesspiegel that the Zschäpe defence was seen as a “killer case” and that this was the reason why her law office colleagues wished to end their cooperation and why no other law office was willing to offer her a place. The move to Cologne with her husband and two kids is described by daily newspaper “Die Welt” with the heading “Beate Zschäpe’s counsel loses job and home (Heimat)”.

That the defence of Zschäpe is a well-paid job, one that many lawyers in Germany would compete for, is ignored in such reports. Part of the media rather prefers to see discrimination on the part of fellow lawyers against Sturm, who they claim is being mobbed for defending a Nazi. This is seen as an attack on the rule of law. A further fact cited in evidence of this theory is that Sturm, after having just moved from Munich to Berlin in 2012, had applied for the position of deputy chair of the Berlin association of defence lawyers, had not been elected. The association had issued a press release (in German) regarding this issue today.

It is certainly awkward for Anja Sturm to be disappointed like this by her office colleagues in Berlin. However, that she was unable to immediately find a new office willing to act as a full-in is hardly worth a press report. Criticism concerning the defence of actual or assumed criminals is a daily occurrence for defence counsel. The circumstances under which Sturm changed office do not show any peculiarities which would call into question the possibility of an optimal defence in this or other cases. An attack on the rule of law, on the fair trial principle, as imagined by some of the media, is nowhere to be seen.