A German court jailed a woman for 15 years on Thursday for killing eight of her newborn babies in what may be the worst case of infanticide in the country's criminal history.
Sabine Hilschenz's case has sparked soul-searching in Germany
The court in Frankfurt an der Oder on the Polish border convicted Sabine Hilschenz, a 40-year-old who has borne a total of 13 children, of eight counts of manslaughter in a case that sparked soul-searching about a breakdown of social values in depressed areas of former Communist East Germany.
The remains of the babies, buried in flowerpots, a fish tank and a baby's plastic bathtub, were found last summer in a shed owned by her parents in a small town on the Polish border.
The horror of the discovery left Germans baffled about how the almost unbroken series of pregnancies and deaths could have gone unnoticed so long.
The courtroom in Frankfurt an der Oder where Sabine Hilschenz was sentenced
Brandenburg state prosecutors had accused Hilschenz of eight counts of murder and demanded a life sentence. Her defense team had argued that she is mentally ill and should serve three and a half years in prison for manslaughter.
Father says he had no knowledge of births
The accused gave birth to nine babies between 1988 and 1998, all of whom were found dead. She was charged with only eight counts of manslaughter however, because the death of the first baby fell under the statute of limitations stipulated by East German law.
The unemployed dental hygienist, described by psychiatrists as sane and "extremely bright," is believed to have had regular sexual intercourse without contraception with her husband, who has said he was unaware of the pregnancies and has not been charged. The defendant testified that as soon as the contractions began each time she went into labor, she drowned the pain in alcohol to the point that she passed out.
Each time she woke, she said, she would find the lifeless body of a baby buried in potting soil on the balcony of her apartment.
Pathologists were unable to say whether the children were born alive or to determine the cause of death because their remains were in an advanced state of decomposition when they were discovered. They were, however, able to learn their sex -- seven girls and two boys.
Hilschenz's longtime husband and the father of all the children, who is believed to have worked for the despised East German secret police, the Stasi, told prosecutors he had had no knowledge of the pregnancies, births or deaths. He and the couple's three grown children declined to testify.
Neighbors, friends and relatives made the same claim, saying her heavy-set build and loose-fitting clothing apparently allowed her to hide the fact she was pregnant.
Politically sensitive affair
Brandenburg's interior minister, Jörg Schönbohm infuriated easterners when he said that the "forced proletarization" of certain regions under East Germany's communist leaders had created a culture of apathy that fostered such crimes.
The remarks are believed to have cost Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats key votes in the east in the September general election, although she is now chancellor.
Hilschenz and her husband divorced last year. She then became pregnant by her new boyfriend and carried the child to term.
She is now believed to be suffering from cancer and is reportedly scheduled to undergo an operation after the verdict is read.