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NSU defense team asks to be relieved

November 10, 2015

Three defense lawyers for Beate Zschäpe have petitioned to be relieved of their duties a day before their client takes the stand. She is a member of a German neo-Nazi group accused of racist killings.

Beate Zschäpe, NSU
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Rehle

Court-appointed lawyers Wolfgang Heer, Wolfgang Stahl and Anja Sturm asked the Higher Regional Court in Munich 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.

Tuesday's motion comes a day before the 40-year-old is set 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 is accused of involvement in 10 murders, mostly 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.

She has maintained her silence throughout the trial on advice from her lawyers, but Zschäpe 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.

NSU Prozess Aussenansicht Oberlandesgerich Muenchen II
Criminal proceedings at the Munich court are only one facet of the NSU case.Image: picture-alliance/Sven Simon

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.

Judge Manfred Götzl has adjourned proceedings to allow the others involved in the trial to prepare their responses to the defense attorneys' motion.

jar/mkg (dpa, AP)