German neo-Nazi murder suspect apologises to families of victims

Defendant Beate Zschaepe waits for the continuation of her NSU trial at a courtroom in Munich, southern Germany, on July 3, 2018. (Reuters pic)

MUNICH: A suspected neo-Nazi gang member on trial for involvement in the murders of 10 people apologised to the families of the victims in a German court on Tuesday, even though she denies taking part in the killings.

Prosecutors say Beate Zschaepe was part of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), whose members killed eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman over seven years from 2000.

Judges will give a verdict on July 11, the court said on Tuesday, ending a trial that has taken more than five years to complete.

“I am a compassionate person and was able to see and feel the distress and despair of the families,” Zschaepe, 43, said in her closing statement at the regional court in Munich.

“I apologise for the suffering I have caused,” she added.

This was only the second time that Zschaepe has spoken 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.

Zschaepe has denied taking part in the murders with two men, Uwe Boehnhardt and Uwe Mundlos. They killed themselves in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance. But she has, through her lawyer, said she felt morally guilty for not stopping them.

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.

She considered informing the police at one point, she said at the time, but the men threatened to commit suicide and she was financially dependent on them.

On Tuesday she said that she did not know how the victims were chosen and that she had denied reality to some extent for a long time. Only once she had turned herself in did she realize the full extent of the crimes, she said.

She said she no longer followed right-wing ideology, saying of her neo-Nazi beliefs that “this chapter is closed”.

Addressing the judges, she said: “Please do not judge me for something that I neither wanted nor committed.”

The prosecution has demanded a sentence of life in prison. Zschaepe’s lawyers have urged the court to convict her of the lesser charges of arson and robbery.

“I only want one thing now, to find closure so that I can eventually lead a life free of fear,” Zschaepe told the court.

The NSU attacks were the most violent by a guerrilla group in Germany since the end of the far-left Red Army Faction’s two-decade spree in 1991, in which 34 people are estimated to have been killed.