The fatal assault of a 22-year-old student in Offenbach last year has sent shockwaves across Germany and beyond. As the court case draws to its close, the cause of death has turned into a key matter of dispute.
The coroner involved in the Tugce Albayrak trial disclosed on Wednesday that a brain hemorrhage had led to her death. Pathologist Marcel Verhoff read out his autopsy report, in which his forensic team specified that the main cause of death was brain damage sustained in course of the violent attack on the night of November 15.
"The left side of her head suffered the greatest impact," Verhoff said, explaining that Tugce Albayrak had most likely fallen onto the ground after the attack while sustaining a lethal injury to her head.
However, the statement caused controversy when it was revealed that defendant Sanel M. had reportedly beaten Albayrak only on the right side of her head.
Despite hitting Albayrak with his bare hands repeatedly, the right side of the brain could not be proven as a main area of impact in the autopsy, therefore ruling out any injury to the right brain hemisphere as a direct cause of death.
The incident is alleged to have occurred after Tugce Albayrak, a trainee teacher, intervened in an argument between the accused and two young girls in November.
Defendant Sanel M. denies any premeditation in the murder case, which is expected to draw to a close in June
Verhoff added that Tugce Albayrak may have suffered a concussion during the attack, causing her to lose consciousness and subsequently hitting the pavement with her head. The coroner claimed that the shape of the injury on her skull matched the imprint of an earring she allegedly wore on the night of the attack. Investigators failed to locate a left earring, but deduced that it would symmetrically match its right counterpart, which was still on Albayrak's ear when she arrived at the hospital.
But other medical practitioners involved in the case did not rule out that further causes may have been involved in her death.
An anesthetist working at the hospital in Offenbach, where Tugce Albayrak was treated after the assault, told the EPD news agency that the emergency response team had failed to start artificial respiration while Albayrak was still in the ambulance. This may indirectly have led to her throwing up upon arrival at the emergency room, with vomit blocking her airway.
"We lost a lot of time in the operating theater trying to clear up her lungs," he explained.
But Pathologist Verhoff disagreed with that statement: "Tugce's life would not have been saved by a faster intubation or any quicker surgery," he said.
The cause of death is turning into a key matter of dispute, as the court case begins to draw to its close. The presiding judge's interpretation of the coroner's inquest will partially determine what aspect of criminal law will apply 18-year-old Sanel M.'s sentencing – whether he will be convicted as an adult or as a young offender.
Sanel M. has repeatedly denied any premeditation in the murder case, saying that he had never expected his actions to lead to Albayrak's death. He could walk out with a suspended sentence if he received a sentence as a young offender. If he is indicted as an adult with aggravated assault causing death as his charge, he would receive a minimum three-year-sentence.
Closing arguments in the divisive case have been scheduled for June 12.
Editor's note: Deutsche Welle follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.
ss/kms (dpa, epd)