A German woman went on trial for manslaughter in the eastern city of Frankfurt (Oder) on Thursday after the bodies of nine of her newborn babies were found hidden in her parents' garden.
Sabine H. in court on Thursday
Sabine H., a 40-year-old unemployed dental assistant who is seriously ill with cancer, is accused of leaving her babies to die and then hiding their remains in flowerpots, buckets and an old fish tank.
The infanticide case is believed to be unprecedented in Germany and paints a bleak picture of social deprivation in the former communist East Germany.
Sabine H. gave birth to nine babies, two boys and seven girls, between 1988 and 1998 in various towns in the eastern state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.
She is charged with eight counts of manslaughter because the death of the first baby, who allegedly drowned in a toilet bowl, dates back to 1988. Under German law, the time in which she could be charged has lapsed.
The woman has told investigators that she did the babies no harm but wrapped them up and let them die after giving birth alone under the influence of large amounts of alcohol, saying she drank herself into a stupor to dull her labor pains.
The prosecution wanted Sabine H. to face murder charges but the court in Frankfurt (Oder) said the charge must be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds that the crimes took place against a background of alcohol abuse and dire family problems.
The accused and her husband, who is believed to have worked for the Stasi, the feared former East German secret services, divorced in 2005 after years of marital strife.
DNA tests have shown that the couple was indeed the parents of all nine dead newborns.
They have three surviving children and the husband is said not to have wanted any more. The woman also has a two-year-old child by another man.
Neighbor discovered remains
The remains were discovered in a garage in Brieskow-Finkenheerd
She was arrested last year after a neighbor of her parents in the small town of Brieskow-Finkenheerd came across the remains of the babies in July while cleaning up their garage.
According to prosecutor Annette Bargenda, Sabine H. kept two of the babies in a freezer for years before placing them in a flower pot, which she kept on her balcony for a while before moving it to her parents' property.
Bargenda said the accused repeatedly fell pregnant because she refused to use contraception out of religious conviction.
It was discovered while she was in preventive custody that she is suffering from a serious form of cancer.
Her lawyer, Matthias Schöneburg, said the court will have to prove that the babies were alive at birth.
"This will be difficult because the findings of the investigation were inconclusive on that point," he told AFP.
He said his client was painfully aware of the prison sentence she risked and of the intense interest in the case.
"But she is relieved that the trial is starting and that she will know her fate in a month's time," he said.
A verdict is expected at the end of May.