10 November 2015

Official announcement by presiding judge Götzl that Zschäpe will make a statement – defense attorney asked to be relieved of their duties, Wohlleben announces challenge for alleged bias

The trial day began with an announcement by the presiding judge confirming what the press had reported yesterday: Zschäpe defense attorney Grasel has announced to the court that Zschäpe would make a statement on the charges against her tomorrow. A senior partner from his law office had already made such an announcement to the court on 31 August 2015, since then there had been several discussions concerning the date on which the statement was to be made. Nonetheless, the presiding judge did not inform the parties to the trial until today.
Asked by a victim’s counsel whether Zschäpe would answer questions, Grasel stated that questions by the court will be answered while questions by victims’ counsel will not.
Zschäpe’s three original defense attorneys reacted with another motion to be relieved of their duties. This motion was largely based on the fact that the presiding judge had not told them of the announcement by Grasel and had thus, so they claim, showed that it too saw “irreconcilable differences leading to a lack of trust”.

The Wohlleben defense, meanwhile, announced that they would again challenge all members of the court for alleged bias – a challenge which will likely be based on the court failing to inform the parties. The trial is currently interrupted so that this challenge can be put to paper.
Of course, the inaction by the presiding judge is to be criticized – as he has known for months that a statement by Zschäpe is on the horizon, he should have told the parties to the trial, inter alia to give victims a chance to decide whether they wish to attend the trial on the day of the statement.

The motion by the original defense attorneys to be relieved again misses the core of the question: it is easy to see why those three attorneys, who had always counseled Zschäpe to remain silent, are now trying to publicly distance themselves from the new strategy. However, the problems within the Zschäpe defense are solely caused by Zschäpe herself, who is once again playing her defense attorneys – her three original counsel, new fourth man Grasel, but also Wohlleben’s defense attorneys who currently seem to be co-defending her – against each other.

Heer, Stahl and Sturm now complain that “the Zschäpe defense – as an institution” is being severely hampered. From the point of view of a functional criminal defense, it is important to note that it is the motion by Sturm, Stahl and Heer which may well endanger the right to an independent defense. After all, the problems within the Zschäpe defense are based on the defendant’s refusal to communicate with her counsel. For those who find the institution of criminal defense important, such problems must be cleared up within the defense – even if only by way of a statement to the defendant that counsel will not take any further steps given the change in strategy. Instead, Heer, Stahl and Sturm once more turn to the court expecting it to solve the defense’s problems for it – in other words, they are asking the court to intervene into the relationship between defense attorneys and defendant, a relationship which has to be kept absolutely clear of intervention from outside, even if the defense is not united.

By the way, this announcement also explains why the court has conducted the trial at half-speed since the end of the summer break – apparently this was above all to kill time until Zschäpe, Grasel and Borchert had prepared her statement.

We will report on the second part of the trial day separately.