7 June 2018

Counsel Heer concludes the closing statement on the Frühlingsstraße fire

Zschäpe defense counsel Heer today continued his long-winded statement on the criminal liability of his client for arson in the Frühlingsstraße house and for attempted murder of the old lady in the neighboring apartment and of two contractors working in the house. He spent the morning continuing to deal with the evidence in court, turning to legal questions in the afternoon.

It was already exhausting to follow his pseudo-exact and long-winded statements on the evidence, but this tendency became even worse for his statements on criminal liability. Heer spent several hours on detail questions of the law of arson, sounding like a law student wishing to show off his knowledge of all sorts of legal questions, even those that do not have any relevance to the case at hand. His conclusion was that Zschäpe could be convicted neither of murder nor of aggravated arson, but only of “simple” arson and of negligently causing an explosion.

Heer’s method of combining a very detailed consideration of the evidence heard in court with a host of references to legal precedent may impress laypersons, and indeed Zschäpe seemed more open to her “old counsel” today than she had been for several years. In fact, however, Heer’s statement not only proved rather weak in central aspects, but actually turned out to be a veritable own-goal:

Inter alia, Heer stated that Zschäpe’s acts could not constitute a case of aggravated arson with respect to the other part of the house – the part where the old lady lived – as the two parts of the house had to be considered separate buildings for the purpose of arson law. He referred to several decisions of the Federal Court of Justice which he claimed supported his view. What he neglected to mention is that, while the Court did indeed find that the two halves of a semi-detached house could be considered separate buildings, it went on to say that this was not the case where the perpetrator had committed acts showing that he anticipated the fire spreading to the other part of the house.

And this, in fact, is exactly what Heer had spent several hours proving: according to him, Zschäpe had rung the doorbell of her neighbor’s flat to make sure that she was not at home; when the neighbor had not answered, Zschäpe had concluded that she was not home. Zschäpe herself had stated the same in her statement read out in court. In fact, according to the evidence heard in court, this may well be true.

But this of course simply shows that Zschäpe had anticipated a spreading of the fire to the other part of the house – otherwise there would have been no need to warn her neighbor living in that other half. Thus Heer’s argument on aggravated arson is disproved by his own statement.

The same is true for the argument on the charge of attempted murder: by ringing her neighbor’s door bell, Zschäpe has shown that she thought it was possible that her neighbor would die in the fire. And although ringing the door bell did not lead to any clear result, she nonetheless set fire to the house. In response to this argument, Heer, in contrast to his usual verbosity, did not have much to say, only referring Zschäpe’s statement in court, in which she had not referred to a danger of death, but only generally of dangers to her neighbor. In other words: Heer relied on the very statement he had spent two days maligning and presenting as unreliable, showing clearly that he was simply unable to think up any halfway decent counterargument at this point. His claim that ringing the doorbell of the neighbor – who was almost ninety years old, somewhat hard of hearing and limited in her mobility – was sufficient to ensure that she was out of house is clearly out of touch with everyday life.

Heer’s closing statement may conform to his self-image as a well-read, committed and objective defense counsel. It may also be received that way by parts of the press. As to his client, however, he has done her a severe disservice yesterday and today. This will not be of any relevance in the end as the conviction for the Frühlingsstraße fire will be dwarfed by those for co-perpetrating ten murders and two bombing attacks – crimes on which Heer did not have much of anything to say today and which his co-counsel Stahl and Sturm will turn to next week.

Next week, counsel Stahl and Sturm will bring their closing statements, which is anticipated to take a minimum of two full trial days. In addition, the defense has brought a number of motions for evidence concerning e.g. structural details of the building. While these are rather meritless, the court will nonetheless have to deal with them. Accordingly, it seems quite likely that the trial will only reach the stage of any last words by the accused in the trial week after next (i.e. 19 to 21 June), with a judgment being handed down the week after that (26 to 28 June).