Munich (Germany): A German court hearing a landmark murder and terrorism trial today rejected a request by three defence lawyers to quit representing the surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell.
The lawyers had repeatedly clashed with the woman in the dock, 40-year-old Beate Zschaepe, the surviving member of the alleged killer trio called the National Socialist Underground (NSU).
However, chief justice Manfred Goetzl averted a possible mistrial by ordering Zschaepe’s public defenders to stick with the case, arguing they had not given sufficient grounds for quitting.
The NSU is blamed for the assassination-style gun murders of 10 people – eight men with Turkish roots, a Greek migrant and a German policewoman – between 2000 and 2007.
Zschaepe is accused of aiding the killings and other crimes, including a nail-bomb attack in a Cologne migrant neighbourhood which wounded at least 23, and 15 bank robberies to finance the NSU.
The gang’s two male members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, died in 2011 after a bank robbery in an apparent murder-suicide while hiding in their getaway vehicle, a rented camper van.
Zschaepe, who had for years shared a house with the two men, has stayed silent since the start of her high-profile trial in May 2013, held under tight security in the southern city of Munich.
She has repeatedly clashed with the three court-appointed lawyers – Wolfgang Heer, Wolfgang Stahl and Anja Sturm – and tried unsuccessfully to fire them a year ago.
Today, the three lawyers asked to stop representing her. The court adjourned its hearings to consider the request, before rejecting it.
They must now keeping working, together with a fourth lawyer, Mathias Grasel, appointed several weeks ago.
Germany was shocked in 2011 to find that the bloody murder spree – long blamed by police and media on migrant crime gangs – was in fact committed by a far-right group with xenophobic motives.
The random discovery deeply embarrassed authorities, exposing police and domestic intelligence flaws and raising uncomfortable questions about how the cell went undetected for 13 years.