Defendant jailed for three years in Tugce trial | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 16.06.2015
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Defendant jailed for three years in Tugce trial

A German court has sentenced Sanel M. to three years juvenile detention for causing bodily harm with fatal consequences. He had had an altercation with Tugce Albayrak, who became a symbol for civic courage, last year.

She was celebrated as a hero and held up as a tragic example of what can happen to those who bravely stand up for others: Tugce Albayrak, the young woman who died in November 2014 after a Sanel M. hit her in the head in a McDonald's parking lot in the German state of Hessen.

Now there's a verdict for 18-year-old M.: the Darmstadt regional court has mostly gone with the prosecution's demands and sentenced the teenager to three years in juvenile detention for causing grievous bodily harm leading to death. Prosecutor Birgit Lüter had asked for a jail sentence of three years and three months, while the defense had demanded the defendant receive a year's suspended sentence.

M. was sentenced in accordance with juvenile law, since he had only been 18 for ten days when the incident occured. The judge in charge of the trial, Jens Assling, said the defendant never intended to kill Albayrak. M's lawyer Heinz-Jürgen Borowsky announced that he would file an appeal and said there were better options than locking Sanel M. away.

When the verdict was announced, Tugce's mother and others in the audience started crying. "No verdict in the world can make up for your loss," Assling said to the victim's family. Tugce's grandmother said she wasn't satisfied with the verdict: "Three years isn't enough."

Not a case of black-and-white

Sanel M. in court with a folder covering his face. (Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool Photo via AP)

Defendant Sanel court

Albayrak, a 22-year-old training to become a high school teacher, went to defend two teenage girls who were harassed by M. and some friends in the restroom area of the fast food restaurant the night of November 15, 2014. When Albayrak left the restaurant later, she encountered M. in the parking lot. He struck her in the face, which caused her to fall and hit her head on a stone. This impact is thought to have caused her eventually-fatal brain hemorrhage.

During Sanel M.'s trial, it emerged that the events were not as black and white as they were first portrayed in the media. Pubilc prosecutor Alexander Homm said that Tugce wasn't the "national hero for civic courage" she was made out to be and that M. wasn't a "coma-punching thug." Prosecutor Lüter said that Albayrak and M. traded heavy insults and provocations before M. hit the young woman.

The 18-year-old perpetrator had admitted he hit Tugce Albayrak right after the events of the fateful November night. During his trial, he told the court how much he regretted his actions, calling them "the biggest mistake" of his life. "I can only say sorry," M. said. "I can never make it right."

A whole country in mourning

Albayrak lingered in a coma for two weeks after the incident. Her case led to an outpouring of grief and support all over Germany and beyond. People held candlelight vigils for the young woman and rallied outside her hospital night after night. She died after her parents took her off life-support on her 23rd birthday.

A sea of people turned up for Albayrak's funeral and a petition asking German President Joachim Gauck to award her the Federal Order of Merit for her courage has more than 300,000 signatures. Hessen's state premier Volker Bouffier said he supported the cause as well. Chancellor Angela Merkel stated she was sympathetic towards the idea.

Tugce's coffin is carried through the masses attending her funeral. (Photo: DW/ Sabrina Pabst)

More than 1,500 people participated in a memorial for Tugce, before she was laid to rest in a private ceremony

While that hasn't happened yet, Gauck did send a letter to Tugce's family expressing his condolences: "Our whole country is mourning with you."

Politicians from Turkey, Albayrak's country of origin, publicly mourned the young woman as well. "I wish to God that our daughter Tugce rests in peace," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said. "She showed great heroism and made a place in the hearts of the German public."

Peace at last

The case sparked a discussion about public safety and civic courage in Germany. For many people who admired Albayrak for her defense of the girls when others would have looked the other way, the name Tugce has become synonymous with bravery and social involvement. The trial and the information it revealed are not likely to change that.

Albayrak's father Ali talked to German tabloid "Bild" about the loss of his child. "I painfully miss my daughter and her smile," he said. While the verdict won't bring Tugce Albayrak back, it might finally allow her family to come to peace.

Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and requires us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

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