14 September 2016

Zschäpe refuses to answer questions of victims counsel, and: a motion concerning a letter written by Zschäpe leads to hectic activities by the defense.

Today the court first finished the questioning of former Blood and Honour Thuringia head and secret service informer Marcel Degner (see, inter alia, the report of 20 July 2016). Again questions concerned whether he had been an informer, which he vehemently denied even in the face of a definite identification by his former contact officers. Degner today appeared with a new witness counsel, but remained true to his strategy of simply denying this fact. Victims counsel accordingly decided not to ask their prepared questions concerning his activities and reports as an informer. Degner could leave the courtroom rather early in the day and return home – there to prepare for the inevitable perjury trial, which had been put on ice for the duration of his testimony in Munich.

Next up was the statement by the Zschäpe defense on questions by victims counsel – which Zschäpe simply refuses to answer. It is now up to the court to decide whether it wants to pose some of these many detailed questions as its own questions – thus also showing to what extent it is really interested in clearing up the NSU and its crimes.

Victims counsel than began to bring a motion for evidence concerning a letter which Zschäpe had sent in 2013 to a Neonazi detained in a prison in North Rhine-Westphalia. This letter had been sent by the prison authorities to the domestic secret service, which had then sent it on to the federal prosecutors, who had included it in the case file. In it, Zschäpe presents herself as strong, self-assured and hard-nosed – quite in contrast to her in-court statement presenting the cliché of a weak, alcoholic woman dependent on the two men.

Given the contents of the letter, the reactions by the defense are probably unsurprising: first off, they moved that the court move into nun-public session already while the motion was being read out – the legal debate concerning whether to do so also had to be held in nun-public session.

In that sessions, parties were to present their arguments on whether to exclude the public from the further reading of the motion – arguments focused on weighing the privacy interests of the accused versus the information interests of the public in the matters presented in the motion and the letter itself. The defense could have presented arguments why they felt that the letter – which contains a self-representation by Zschäpe vis-à-vis an imprisoned Neonazi – contained particularly intimate details, in response to which victims counsel would have argued why there was an interest of the public precisely to learn about this type of unfiltered self-representation, not based on a defense strategy and made to fit the contents of the case file. (The letter has, by the way, already been published in the press).

Instead of presenting such arguments, the defense began to throw smokescreens, claiming that it had been illegal to put the letter in the case file and that therefore the motion for evidence, which quoted parts of the letter, could not be read out in court at all, not even in a non-public session – this despite the fact that the letter has been in the case file for years. Of course, already the basis for believing the letter to be in the case file illegally is rather sketchy – further discussion showed that the defense had not even looked at the provisions cited as legal basis for this step by the prosecution. And above all: even if the letter was put in the case file illegally, this might potentially lead to a prohibition of using it as evidence in the verdict – but certainly not to a prohibition of a party merely bringing a motion that it be considered as evidence.

These proceedings once more show the defense aware of its precarious procedural position in the face of the damning evidence presented so far, and trying to keep the contents of letter, which after all contradict Zschäpe’s representation of herself in court, out of the trial at all cost.
What also became clear was that the relationship of trust between Zschäpe and her counsel Heer, Stahl and Sturm is not as damaged as often claimed – Zschäpe had no problems talking to them about the issue today after it became clear that her new additional counsel were unwilling and/or unable to take up this issue – counsel Borchert had already left the courtroom again at that point, while Grasel did not make any serious attempts to join in the debate. In pursuing concrete goals, such as in this case keeping the letter out of the trial, Zschäpe thus seems to have no problems at all in contacting Heer, Stahl and Sturm. This once again shows that Zschäpe’s motions to relieve these three as counsel are based on purely tactical motives.
The court has not yet decided on how to proceed with the motion, instead giving the parties until next week to present additional observations.