Convicted Child Murderer Plans Foundation to Help Children | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.08.2006
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Convicted Child Murderer Plans Foundation to Help Children

Magnus Gäfgen is a busy man. He has written an autobiography. He is fighting legal battles against police torture. He is starting a charitable foundation for children. At the same time, he is a convicted child murderer.

Gäfgen kidnapped, blackmailed and murdered, but now he says he wants to help

Gäfgen kidnapped, blackmailed and murdered, but now he says he wants to help

In Sept. 2002, Magnus Gäfgen kidnapped and murdered Jakob von Metzler, the 11-year-old son of a prominent Frankfurt banking family. In July 2003, he was found guilty of abduction, murder and blackmail and sentenced to life in prison.

According Gäfgen's lawyer, Michael Heuchemer, the 31-year-old convicted murder is now planning to establish a foundation whose goal is to assist children who have been victims of violence.

"The thought of a charitable engagement can only serve as an attempt to set a counter-symbol for the injustice committed in 2002," Heuchemer said in a statement.

The foundation will be called "Horizons -- Children and Youth Foundation." Its original capital amounts to 25,000 euros ($32,000). In the paperwork submitted to the authorities, Heuchemer is listed as the foundation president, but Gäfgen himself would choose the children that will receive help from the foundation.

"My client is not trying to make money for himself," Heuchemer said.

Advertising remorse

Jakob von Metzler

Jakob von Metzler was brutally murdered

This is not the first time that the enterprising lawyer is working on behalf of his client outside the courtroom. Heuchemer already published Gäfgen's autobiographical work "Alone with God," which Gäfgen described as his "attempt at confronting, understanding and overcoming" what happened to him in 2002.

Not everybody is convinced that the latest social project of the enterprising lawyer-client duo is exactly praiseworthy.

"For young lawyers, it is very tempting to boost their career with such a case," Frank Johnigk of the German Federal Chamber of Lawyers told the German weekly Der Spiegel. "It seems morally questionable, but legally there are no problems with it."

A necessary project?

Supporters, on the other hand, like to stress that convicts, too, deserve a chance to truly repent for the crimes they have committed and that they need encouragement along the way.

"This is a necessary project," said Joachim Schultz-Tornau, formerly a prominent politician and member of parliament in the German state of North Rhine - Westphalia. "This is a meaningful sign of remorse."

Schultz-Tornau, who became Gäfgen's mentor in prison, published in 2005 a highly controversial "Plea for a Murderer," in which he described Gäfgen not as a "merciless killer" but "a human being with likable traits." His involvement in the case did not go down very well with his party -- the free-market liberal FDP -- which ultimately led to Schultz-Tornau's exit from the political arena.

Human rights

Gäfgen kidnapped Jakob von Metzler on Sept. 27, 2002, as the boy was on his way home from school. The same day he suffocated Metzler, he demanded one million euros from the Metzler family for the boy's release, which they paid. When the boy was not released, the police, who had been observing Gäfgen for days, arrested him at the Frankfurt airport.

Polizist im Rampenlicht

Wolfgang Daschner, former Frankfurt deputy police chief

While interrogating Gäfgen, Deputy Police Chief Wolfgang Daschner threatened to have a martial arts expert hurt the suspect if he didn't reveal where Metzler was being held. Gäfgen then told the police where he had hid the child, who was already dead at the time.

But the fact that local police squeezed a confession out of Gäfgen by threatening to torture him was irrelevant, Judge Hans Bachl told the court at the time.

"With the threat of torture, the police did grave damage to the rule of law of this country," Bachl said in his concluding statement. "Their guilt, however, has nothing to do with Gäfgen's guilt."

Legal battles

Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg

European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, France

Gäfgen and his lawyer, however, thought differently. Gäfgen's appeals before German courts were not successful, but last year he lodged a complaint against Germany with the European Human Rights Court.

In his 220-page complaint, Gäfgen accused Germany of violating articles three and six of the European Convention on Human Rights which stipulate, on the one hand, that no one should be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and, on the other, that everyone has the right to a fair trial.

Gäfgens liability claim against the state of Hessen lead to the suspended sentencing of Wolfgang Daschner in December 2004. The former deputy police chief of the city of Frankfurt was fined 10,800 euros for authorizing threats of torture to be used during investigation.

Gäfgen's charitable foundation is yet to be approved by the authorities.

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