Court finds that the evidence presented so far has confirmed the charges against Ralf Wohlleben
The trial day began with several interruptions and a challenge for alleged bias brought by the Wohlleben defence against all five judges. This challenge was a somewhat desperate reaction to a decision of 25 June in which the court rejected the defence’s challenge of Wohlleben’s detention. In that decision the court states very clearly that, after a preliminary evaluation of the evidence so far, the charges against Wohlleben – aiding and abetting nine counts of murder – have been fully confirmed. The court also stated that there had been no violations of the right to a speedy nor other reasons to lift or vary the detention order.
Today, the court decided to continue the trial proceedings while the other judges called upon to decide on the defence’s challenge of alleged bias are deliberating. Today’s challenge may well prove to be a boomerang for the Wohlleben defence since it may well result in additional judges supporting the evaluation of the evidence made by presiding judge Götzl and his colleagues. Whether the defence will also appeal the detention decision itself and bring about a decision by the Federal Court of Justice remains to be seen – after all, such a move would bring about the risk that Germany’s highest court also supports the Munich court’s evaluation of the evidence.
The decision to uphold the detention order not only shows that the activities of Wohlleben’s defence so far have not shown much effect on the Senate – it also shows that the doubts claimed by the Zschäpe defence concerning the evidence against their client will also remain just words. The court easily dismissed the doubts claimed by the Wohlleben defence, making it easy to imagine that it will find it similarly easy to dismiss claims about doubts concerning Zschäpe’s role in the NSU.
After the lunch break, the court then heard witness Thomas Gerlach, a central figure in the Thuringia Nazi scene and of some importance for the scene in Germany and internationally, above all because of his importance for the “Hammerskin” network.
Gerlach, like many Nazi witnesses before him, tried the strategy of „lies and trivialization.” He claimed not to have been active for at least two years – without however having changed his political persuasions. He claimed that an imprisonment of several years had made him find out that violence was not a method to be used in the political struggle – he also claimed that the entire scene of Nazi “comradeships” and the NPD, including accused Wohlleben, had held similarly. He had worked together with Wohlleben and Kapke since early 2000 in building up supraregional networks such as the “Free Net”, in conducting several Nazi campaigns and in operating the “Festival of Peoples.” This had lead to many international contacts in Switzerland, Portugal and other countries. It was quite apparent that the presiding judge could see through the way in which Gerlach tried to trivialize his efforts in building a nationwide Nazi network.
The real significance of the actions of Thomas Gerlach – who by the way is not related to accused Holger Gerlach – was sometimes reflected in his choice of words. At one time he spoke of “comradeships and actions groups” („Kameradschaften und Aktionsgruppen“) – terms used above all in strategy discussions about „leaderless“ military resistance as propagated by American Nazis and adapted by „Blood and Honour“ and the “Hammerskins”.
When it came to the Hammerskins, Gerlach did not so much lie and trivialize as simply refuse to answer: his former girlfriend Mandy Struck had testified that he was a member of that organization. When asked about that statement today, Gerlach stated that the “value system” he imposed on himself did not allow him to answer questions concerning the Hammerskins. He remained steadfast even when the presiding judge informed him that such refusal could lead to fines and imprisonment for contempt.
Today, the presiding judge did not force the issue, instead interrupting the questioning of Gerlach at about 4 pm. The court still has questions concerning topics that Gerlach has so far been willing to discuss. “Ace” Gerlach will thus have to appear in Munich again and will have to show whether he is ready to risk imprisonment for his “self-imposed value system”.