23 October 2014

On the fire in the Frühlingsstraße

The witness who testified today is the former defense attorney of Beate Zschäpe whom she had turned to on 8 November 2011. Zschäpe had partly waived attorney-client privilege in order to prove that she had rung the door bell of her neighbor on 4 November 2011 to ensure that her neighbor was not injured by the fire started by Zschäpe.

As mentioned before, this would, however, not tend to disprove, but rather to prove that Zschäpe had the mens rea for murder: after all, it would show that she held it to be likely that her neighbor was home and that the fire would endanger her life. After all, the defense does not claim that Zschäpe had talked to her neighbor and told her to get out of the house.
The way the defense conducted itself in the context of this testimony led to many discussions in the courtroom: the defense had only waived attorney-client privilege to a very limited extent – as several victims’ counsel remarked, their waiver basically meant that the witness was only meant to confirm the defense’s claim and not say anything else. The defense objected to all other questions, including those closely related to the topic given by the defense itself – before the witness himself had decided whether or not to rely on attorney-client privilege. The court held that most of these questions were admissible, the witness answered them, albeit in a rather desultory manner.

In any event, the defense’s plan was also substantively unsuccessful: it became clear that the statement Zschäpe had made to her ex-defense attorney did not yield much – inter alia, the witness thought that Zschäpe had lived in the same part of the house as the old lady and rung the doorbell directly in front of her apartment – in reality, the old lady had lived one door down, Zschäpe had rung the bell at the house entrance and had had no way of checking whether her neighbor, who was more than 80 years old at the time, had heard her ringing at all. At the same time, the witness statement today showed that Zschäpe had in effect admitted to her then-defense attorney that she had started the Frühlingsstraße fire.

The trial day ended with a short discussion concerning the testimony of neo-Nazi and former informer Sczepanski, who has been summoned for 4 November 2014. Sczepanski is in the witness protection program. The interior ministry of the Land of Brandenburg only consented to his testifying if this was done via video-link with audio and video distortion and (!) with the public being excluded from the courtroom in Munich. This was based on a claimed danger of neo-Nazis taking revenge for Sczepanski’s “betrayal”.Victims’ counsel stated that this prognosis was rather far-fetched – to give only one example, accused Carsten Schultze, who is also in witness protection, has been taking part in more than 150 trial days without any specific security measures and without any concrete evidence of danger to him – in fact, without even so much as a photo appearing in the press. Victims’ counsel moved that the court ask the ministry to allow the witness to testify in Munich.