Florida Reviews Case of German Death Row Inmate | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.02.2006
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Florida Reviews Case of German Death Row Inmate

Florida's Supreme Court is reviewing the case of a German, who was sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend. Defense lawyers claim to have new evidence that would exonerate the man

Dieter Riechmann during his 1988 trial

Dieter Riechmann during his 1988 trial

Dieter Riechmann has spent the last 18 years on death row in Florida. In November 1988, he was sentenced for the murder of his companion of 13 years, Kersten Kischnick.

The German has always maintained his innocence. Now, the state's supreme court has begun discussions on whether to reopen the case, largely due to flaws in the first trial.

"A lot of witnesses had lied and the main witness of the prosecution said that he lied because he made a deal with the prosecution," said Sumit Bhattacharyya, a US expert for the German division of Amnesty International.

"Furthermore, there were some problems with testimonies of experts concerning ballistics of the gun," he added. "Basically, the case was that Riechmann's girlfriend was shot in the car. What was found in the car and the prosecutor's perception of what had happened did not match."

A new witness comes forward

In addition, says Bhattacharyya, a fresh witness has come forward, who claims to have seen who really murdered Kischnick.

On Oct. 25,1987, Kischnick, a German prostitute, was shot in the right side of her head. Kischnick and Riechmann had spent the evening in a cocktail bar, and were returning home.

Riechmann claimed that they had got lost in a Miami suburb and stopped to ask a man on the street for directions. According to Riechmann, the man then shot his companion, who was sitting in the passenger seat.

However, Riechmann's behavior following the incident was seen as conspicuous by the jury. Apparently, he drove around looking for police for half an hour after Kischnick was murdered.

In addition, a life insurance policy taken out by the couple awarded Riechmann almost $2 million (1.67 million euros) in the event of Kischnick's death. The events were suspicious enough for Riechmann to receive the death penalty.

German government supports defense

RTL-Film über deutschen Todeskandidaten Dieter Riechmann

Riechmann's case even inspired a TV movie in Germany

But almost 20 years on, and after two appeals, Riechmann's defense team contacted the German government, seeking support for a re-trial. A letter was drafted by the German authorities sharply criticizing the verdict and sent to the Supreme Court in Florida.

In the letter, the German foreign ministry made it clear that it found there was insufficient evidence to sentence Riechmann to death. The foreign office has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars for Riechmann's defense.

The defense team is hoping the Supreme Court in Tallahassee will now find enough reason to reopen the case. However, Sumit Bhattacharyya said it could take a while before they make a decision.

"It might take a couple of years before a final decision is made," he said, adding that it the court rejects the appeal, Riechmann might run out of options in a very short time.

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