German Neo-Nazi Sentenced to Life in Prison

July 11, 2018 Updated: July 11, 2018

MUNICH—A member of a German neo-Nazi gang was jailed for life on July 11 for her part in the murders of 10 people during a seven-year campaign of racially-motivated violence.

Beate Zschäpe, 43, showed no reaction as the judge read out her sentence at the end of one of the most closely watched court cases in Germany’s post-war history.

She was part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose members killed eight Turks, a Greek man, and a German policewoman from 2000 to 2007, the Higher Regional Court in Munich ruled.

The murders shook a country that believed it had learned the lessons of its past. A report later said police had “massively underestimated” the risk of far-right violence and that missteps had allowed the cell to go undetected.

The judges said Zschäpe bore “particularly heavy guilt” and handed her the heaviest possible sentence.

Defendant Beate Zschaepe and her lawyers Hermann Borchert and Mathias Grasel wait in a Munich courtroom before judges give their verdict in Munich, Germany, July 11, 2018. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

She had denied any knowledge of the murders during the five-year trial. But she said later she regretted not stopping two male members of the gang, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, from carrying out the killings.

Those men killed themselves in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance.

Prosecutors said she had played a key role behind the scenes, planning the crimes and arranging money and alibis.

“I am a compassionate person and was able to see and feel the distress and despair of the families,” Zschäpe, 43, said last week in her closing statement at the regional court in Munich. “I apologize for the suffering I have caused.”

That was only the second time that Zschäpe spoke in court after more than 400 days of trial hearings. She said she had lacked the physical and mental strength to testify and feared her words would be misinterpreted or twisted.

In her previous testimony in 2015, she denied being a member of the NSU and described feeling horrified and bewildered when Boehnhardt and Mundlos told her about some of the murders.

Appeal

“This is a just punishment for the NSU’s cold-blooded and unprecedented series of crimes,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said in a statement.

Five of the 10 murders took place in Bavaria, the most violent attacks of their kind in Germany since the far-left Red Army Faction’s two-decade killing spree that ended in 1991 and left at least 34 dead.

“What the perpetrators did cannot be made up for. The victims will never be forgotten,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He said Germany needed to tackle racist violence with diversity and the strength of law.

Zschäpe was also found guilty of membership of a terrorist organization, of being co-perpetrator in two bombings, and of arson.

Anja Sturm, Wolfgang Heer and Wolfgang Stahl (L-R), lawyer of defendant Beate Zschaepe wait before judges give their verdict in Munich, Germany July 11, 2018. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle)

Four men were also found guilty of supporting the NSU in various ways, including procuring weapons, and handed sentences from 2 1/2 to 10 years. A group of people in the court applauded when one of the men received a lower sentence than expected.

Zschäpe’s lawyer, Mathias Grasel, said he would appeal against July 11’s ruling.

“The verdict is wrong!” Grasel said in a statement. “Conviction for complicity is legally untenable. The fact is: Ms. Zschäpe was demonstrably present at no crime scene and never fired a weapon or detonated a bomb.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the trial had not uncovered the full story of the murder of its citizens and the other victims.

“Unfortunately, the ruling made today has not brought to light the real criminals, the background of the NSU murders and the connection between the deep state and intelligence to its full extent,” it said, without going into further detail.

Relations between Germany and Turkey deteriorated sharply after Ankara’s crackdown on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in 2016, but have begun to improve lately.

By Jörn Poltz