The planned testimony of alleged terrorist Beate Zschäpe has been postponed. The member of a German neo-Nazi group accused of carrying out racial killings was expected to break her silence for the first time this week.
Munich's Higher Regional Court decided Tuesday to push back proceedings after the defense team filed a motion for bias against the judges and asked to be relieved of their duties. The trial is set to resume on November 17.
The decision to postpone comes one day before alleged neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe was due to testify for the first time about her role in the extremist National Socialist Underground (NSU). Its other core members died in 2011 in an apparent murder-suicide as police closed in on the group. Zschäpe, the only living member, has been on trial since May 2013.
The 40-year-old is accused of involvement in 10 murders, mostly of men of Turkish descent, by the NSU. She also stands accused of torching the group's shared apartment after dousing it with gasoline, causing a powerful explosion.
Zschäpe has maintained her silence throughout the trial on advice from her lawyers, but she has clashed with them several times over this policy. Her primary legal team says they only learned through media reports that she intended to release a statement, through a fourth lawyer, to be read out in court.
In court on Tuesday, presiding judge Manfred Götzl did not specify whether Zschäpe would get an opportunity to make her declaration when the trial resumes next Tuesday.
'Defense not possible'
Earlier in the day, court-appointed lawyers Wolfgang Heer, Wolfgang Stahl and Anja Sturm asked the Munich court to relieve them on the grounds that a defense "in terms of the interests of our client" was no longer possible.
"Our appointments to the defense are just a facade and transparently serve merely the maintenance of the appearance of a proper defense," the text of the application reads.
It is not the first time that Zschäpe's defense team has tried to quit.
Serious law enforcement lapses - or worse
The case has triggered heated debate in Germany, mainly because the cell remained apparently undetected for over a decade despite the fact that state intelligence agents had dozens of informants operating within the right-wing extremist scene.
It also put a spotlight on institutional bias in the police, which failed to apprehend the suspects partly because of a repeated dismissal of the possibility that the crimes were motivated by racism, and instead pursued nonexistent links to Turkish organized crime.
nm/kms (dpa, AP)