BERLIN – A senior German judge has rejected calls to give the public greater access at the trial of a woman suspected of involvement in a far-right murder spree that has shaken the country's security establishment since coming to light over a year ago.
The trial of Beate Zschaepe — the sole surviving member of a neo-Nazi trio that allegedly killed nine businessmen and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007 — is expected to generate intense media interest in Germany and Turkey, where at least four of the victims were born.
Part of the case will center on how Germany's well-funded police and intelligence services failed to link the killings of nine men with ethnic minority backgrounds to far-right fugitives for more than a decade. Several senior security officials have resigned following revelations that authorities for years believed the murders to be the work of immigrant gangs, had informers close to the suspects and destroyed evidence linked to the case.
Karl Huber, the president of the Munich regional court where the case will be heard starting April 17, said in an interview published Saturday that reporters and members of the public will share just 100 seats during what is expected to be a yearlong trial.
"We are going to conduct proceedings in accordance with the rule of law, and not a show trial for the public," he was quoted as saying by Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "We won't do this in a football stadium the way totalitarian states do."
Huber said the court considered screening the proceedings in overflow rooms used in trials such as that of Anders Behring Breivik, who was sentenced to a 21-year prison term by a court in Norway last year for killing 77 people and wounding 200 others in 2011. Norwegian authorities even broadcast the trial to courthouses across the country, so the victims' relatives could watch.
But German court rules prohibit such arrangements and so access will be strictly limited to avoid a mistrial being declared, Huber told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Zschaepe, 38, faces a possible life sentence if convicted of involvement in the murders. She is also charged with helping found the group that called itself National Socialist Underground and with many other crimes.
The other two core members of the group, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide after a bungled bank robbery on Nov. 4, 2011.
Four other men are also charged with various crimes for allegedly helping the NSU, including providing the murder weapon. The prosecution case against the men has been complicated by the fact that some may have been informers for Germany's security services at the time of their alleged crimes.