The only surviving member of a German neo-Nazi cell behind a string of racist murders was yesterday sentenced to life in prison, capping a mammoth trial that began in May 2013.
Beate Zschaepe, 43, was found guilty of 10 counts of murder in deadly shootings of nine Turkish and Greek-born immigrants as well as a German policewoman carried out by a trio known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU).
Although life imprisonment in Germany typically means 15 years behind bars as prisoners are often released for good conduct, Zschaepe would not be eligible for parole after judge Manfred Goetzl imposed the maximum sentence due to the “exceptional severity of the crime.”
Police have said the NSU’s two male members — Zschaepe’s former lovers Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt — carried out the killing spree from 2000 to 2007, before they died in an apparent suicide pact following a bungled bank heist in 2011.
Meanwhile, Ralf Wohlleben, a former member of the far-right National Democratic Party and accused of having provided help to the NSU, was found guilty of complicity in nine counts of murder.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
However, unrepentent neo-Nazi Andre Eminger was found not guilty of complicity, but sentenced to two-and-a-half years for backing a terrorist organization, a verdict that was greeted with applause by supporters in the courtroom.
It was Zschaepe who revealed, after the two Uwes died, the scope of the NSU’s bloody crimes to a shocked German public by releasing a macabre confession video set to a Pink Panther cartoon theme, which mocked the victims and police.
It was only then that Germany woke up to the fact that the series of nationwide killings, long blamed by police on immigrant crime gangs, had in fact been committed by organized fascists from the country’s formerly communist east.
The case deeply shocked a nation that has struggled to atone for its dark Nazi past, and which had associated terrorism mainly with far-left and Muslim militants, not right-wing extremists.
Zschaepe has insisted she only learned of the murders after they were committed.
She has admitted only to helping plot some of the NSU’s 15 bank robberies and setting fire to their shared home after the two men died.
The woman, who grew up in the extremist skinhead subculture of post-reunification east Germany, also told the court that its racist ideology has “no meaning for me anymore.”
The case, which began in May 2013, ended on its 438th day after hearing about 800 witnesses and experts, with 93 bereaved relatives as coplaintiffs.
It was Germany’s biggest trial since the 1960s Auschwitz hearings against perpetrators of the Holocaust and the 1970s proceedings against the left-wing extremist Baader-Meinhof gang.
The files from the mega-trial top 300,000 pages, but the victims’ relatives have said many questions remain unanswered, including how the killers chose their victims.
In 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged that Germany would “do everything we can to clear up the murders and uncover the accomplices and backers, and bring all perpetrators to justice.”
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