An alleged German neo-Nazi accused of involvement in a 10-person killing spree appeared confident and calm Monday as her murder trial opened amid tight security, intense media interest and an immediate request by the defense for a new judge.
Beate Zschaepe — said to be the sole surviving member of a gang behind the murders — entered the court in a dark suit, her arms folded, before turning her back to the cameras and appearing to joke with her lawyers.
The hearing began with two motions from the defense lawyers alleging that the presiding judge was biased. Judge Manfred Goetzl put proceedings on hold until May 14 to consider the defense request that he recuse himself from the trial, which is the highest-profile neo-Nazi murder trial in Germany in decades and could last at least a year.
Zschaepe, 38, is accused by prosecutors of murder for alleged complicity in the killing of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007. If convicted, she faces life imprisonment. Four others face lesser charges of assisting the cell.
Zschaepe is also accused of involvement in at least two bombings and 15 bank robberies allegedly carried out by her accomplices Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, who died in an apparent murder-suicide in November 2011.
Prosecutors allege the trio had formed the self-styled National Socialist Underground after evading arrest on lesser charges in 1998 and managed to remain largely off the authorities’ radar for the following 13 years despite committing a string of violence crimes.
Hundreds of reporters lined up outside the Munich courthouse in the hope of gaining one of the few available seats in the packed courtroom. Police erected security barriers in anticipation of possible protests by far-right and far-left extremist groups.
Many of Germany’s 3 million Turks have asked how the country’s well-funded security services, with their network of informants in the far-right scene, could have overlooked the group’s existence for so long. For years, police suspected the immigrant victims of being involved with foreign gangs linked to gambling and drugs.
Families of those killed and survivors of the bomb attacks in particular have said they are hoping not just for justice, but answers to questions such as how the group chose its victims, none of whom were high-profile targets.