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NSU defendant 'exhibits egocentric behavior'

January 18, 2017

A psychiatrist has presented the first part of his assessment of alleged NSU member Zschäpe, finding her mentally sound. The report also marks the beginning of the end for the yearslong case that scandalized Germany.

Deutschland Verteidiger lehnen Zschäpe-Gutachter im NSU-Prozess ab
Image: picture alliance/dpa/A. Gebert

Court-appointed psychiatrist Henning Sass presented his highly anticipated evaluation of alleged far-right gang member Beate Zschäpe to the higher regional court in Munich on Tuesday.

Early on in his oral remarks to the court, Sass emphasized that he could not identify any significant mental health problems with Zschäpe.

Speaking to judges at Munich's regional court on Wednesday, Sass said that the former member of the neo-Nazi group posed a "high risk" for committing actions similar to group members Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt.

This diagnosis was valid if her role within the "National Socialist Underground" was described accurately in the indictment and if Zschäpe's statement that she agreed to her comrades' actions only unwillingly was incorrect, he added.

Sass did not specify the extent to which he found Zschäpe's own testimony plausible. However, witnesses' accounts went against the assumption that Zschäpe "bowed to the will of her two companions in such important matters." According to him, the 42-year-old was therefore fully responsible for what had happened. Sass said he could not find any psychological problems that could impact "accountability."

He attested that the defendant displays "egocentric" behavioral patterns and that she tends to defer responsibility and trivialize her own behavior. At the same time, however, Zschäpe displays a "healthy self-esteem."

Sass said Zschäpe had refused to be interviewed by the psychiatrist, so his findings are based on his observations of her during the trial's 336 proceedings thus far, witness testimonies and Zschäpe's own statements and files. He admitted that direct talks with the defendant would have been preferred.

Reviewing this data, Sass said Zschäpe had a talent for "stealth, concealment and deception" after living underground with her co-accused Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt for 14 years.

A psychiatric assessment was ordered after the 42-year-old defendant showed a continued lack of emotion and remained silent during her three-and-a-half-year trial in the southern German city of Munich.

Zschäpe is accused, along with two others, of involvement in ten murders, two bombings and 15 bank robberies carried out by the National-Socialist Underground (NSU), a secret neo-Nazi group that operated between 2000 and 2007.

Her co-accused, Mundlos and Böhnhardt, died in an apparent murder-suicide in 2011.

Sass cited witness statements that said Zschäpe could always "control her boys," referencing Mundlos and Böhnhardt. 

A second part of Sass' assessment will be presented to the court on Wednesday. In a draft of the report sent to the court, Sass already said he believes Zschäpe is criminally liable and responsible for her actions.

The court will use Sass' report to help determine Zschäpe's risk of reoffending, as well as her level of guilt in the crimes.

Zschäpe trial in final stage

The 42-year-old Zschäpe has admitted to an arson charge, but has ardently denied committing the murders. Prosecutors believe that she aided in bank robberies and bomb attacks and that she helped cover the fellow suspects' tracks after the killings were committed. 

Commentators said Sass' report is likely to strongly influence the sentence handed down to Zschäpe. It was delayed several times because of applications from the defense.

Zschäpe faces life in prison if convicted.

Four other junior members of the NSU are on trial with Zschäpe.

After staying silent during most of her three-year trial, Zschäpe told the court last September that having been drawn in to nationalist ideology as a young woman in eastern Germany after reunification, she had turned away from far-right ideology. But the short statement made no reference to her alleged crimes.

Investigators say the NSU was behind the murder of eight Turkish-Germans, a Greek migrant and a German policewoman. The group is also believed to have carried out a series of nail-bomb attacks in immigrant neighborhoods.


rs, mm/gsw (AFP, dpa)