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Zschäpe dumps lawyers in NSU trial

Beate Zschäpe, the main defendant in the NSU trial, wants to split from her lawyers. In a DW interview, co-plaintiff attorney Thomas Bliwier describes what that means for the further trial and his clients.

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Bliwier, Beate Zschäpe no longer has confidence in her court-appointed attornies. We are now waiting to hear her explanation and the opinions of the defense and prosecution. What consequences could this have for the NSU trial?

Thomas Bliwier: That depends very much on what Ms. Zschäpe actually says. In longer criminal cases, a disturbance in the relationship between defense and client can always occur. The case law is very strict, to prevent a defendant from using specious reasoning to have a public defender removed, thus interrupting the trial. Requests of this kind actually happen quite often, but it is quite rare for a public defender to be replaced. As the law sees it, only really serious reasons are accepted. The relationship of trust between counsel and client must be permanently destroyed.

Could it be that this request will have no effect on the trial?

Formally, this could happen, but the trial would not be the same as before. With such a serious accusation, and with still many trial days and witnesses still to come, the accused has indeed acted in a rather drastic manner: She called on a court officer to submit to the court that she no longer has confidence in her defense - and that came in the middle of the cross-examination of witness Tino Brandt.

That is a signal. No matter how this works out, we should note that Ms. Zschäpe is saying: I do not trust my defenders any more. If she cannot restore this, you have to imagine: Ms. Zschäpe no longer believes she is being defended and the defenders know that they no longer have the confidence of their client. This is a heavy burden for the trial.

You are representing the family of Halit Yozgat, considered to be the ninth NSU murder victim. Does this development create more reason for hope or concern for your clients, or other plaintiffs?

Our clients are concerned. They are naturally curious to see what will be presented as a justification. But they are worried that the court will find there are serious grounds and would have to accede to this request. Then it would be hard to imagine that the trial could continue. We could theoretically order new defenders. They would have to become familiar with the case materials, but that is unlikely within the statutory preparation period of one month. That's a big concern for those representing clients: Could the trial break down and would we need to start over?

But aren't the hurdles for this still very high?

The hurdles are very, very high. There is often dissatisfaction with what the defense does or does not do. In most cases, it is possible to work together to find a common approach, for example, such as by expressing criticism of a questioning technique used on witnesses, to which the defense can respond. It is also conceivable that, for example, only one public defender would be replaced.

Beate Zschäpe has remained silent throughout the trial on the advice of her lawyers. But some now believe she may decide to make a statement. Do you see reasons for this?

I said early on that I believe Ms. Zschäpe will at some point speak. We have a procedure in which I think silence is not a good strategy. We recently learned that her co-accused Ralf Wohlleben must stay in prison. The authorities have made it clear they believe there is strong evidence against Mr. Wohlleben and that this has not changed. Ms. Zschäpe has also taken note of this decision. We have also just heard again from witness Tino Brandt that she was very ideologically driven and not a "wallflower" who did not take part in political discussions; she was very closely connected with Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt.

The court is not obliged to investigate every conceivable doubt, but only doubts that are palpable. Perhaps Ms. Zschäpe understands that she can counter this only by a statement or through a more consistent defense than the one we have been experiencing.

Your clients issued a courtroom appeal for Ms. Zschäpe to testify. Is the desire for answers dominating everything else?

The desire for answers is dominant. From the beginning they have formulated this not as a call for a specific punishment for Ms. Zschäpe, but that they assume she knows what happened, how the victims were selected and whether there were local helpers. It was impressive how Mrs. Yozgat said in court: "You should not be found guilty of something that you have not committed."

The Yozgat family has no interest in a weak or bad defense. On the contrary. Of course, we would feel more comfortable if, in the end, a judgment that is sound and has been well defended is handed down in a trial like this. In such a trial, not only a strong co-plaintiff, but also a strong defense are needed. The Yozgats want to hear from this woman what really happened. In what direction her testimony could go is completely open, but I think that does not matter, in any case she would help to provide answers.

Hamburg lawyer Thomas Bliwier has represented the Yozgat family as co-plaintiffs since the trial of alleged National Socialist Underground member Beate Zschäpe began in Munich on May 6, 2013. Halit Yozgat was shot and killed on April 6, 2006 in his Internet café in Kassel, Germany. He is considered the ninth victim of the NSU series of murders.

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