The violence of Niklas' death in a well-to-do suburb on the Rhine threw the case into the German national spotlight. The trial was marked by unexpected developments.
The 21-year-old suspect had been accused of hitting and kicking Niklas P. in the head on a street in Bad Godesberg, a southern suburb of Bonn, while the student was on his way home from a concert on May 6 last year. Niklas fell into a coma and died in a hospital a few days later.
"We cannot prove that he was the attacker and that he was at the scene of the crime," Judge Volker Kunkel said in the court opinion.
However, the district court in Bonn sentenced Walid S. to a juvenile sentence of 8 months in relation to a different assault.
The acquittal means the headline-grabbing death of Niklas P. will - for now - remain unresolved.
A verdict awaited nationwide
In addition to sending shock waves through Bad Godesberg, a town of roughly 72,000 inhabitants, the case garnered widespread national attention due to the rarity of such street attacks in Germany and the trial's surprising twists and turns.
Although Walid S. had originally been charged with murder, an investigation proved Niklas had been suffering from damaged brain blood vessels, causing the head injuries to become fatal. The discovery prompted the prosecution to reduce the charge to bodily injury resulting in death.
Then, around one week prior to the verdict, public prosecutor Florian Gessler called for his client to be acquitted, arguing that Walid S. could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt to have attacked Niklas. A different person had entered the picture as a suspect, Gessler said, but no more details were made available as the prosecution team wanted to await the verdict.
The reliability of the witness testimony was thrown into question throughout the trial, with both the prosecution and defense stating that witnesses who took the stand had not told the truth. Many witnesses said they could not remember clearly or had not observed the actual crime.
Thomas Düber, the attorney for Niklas' mother who was a joint plaintiff, added that one could assume some of the witnesses knew precisely who the attacker was but remained silent before the court.
In his closing plea on her behalf, Düber told the court that Niklas' mother remained convinced that the man on the bench had been responsible for her son's death.
Walid S. always denied being present at the scene of Niklas' death, though he admitted to participating in a different attack, for which he received the 8-month sentence. The state prosecutor had called for a 12-month juvenile sentence on parole for grievous bodily harm while Walid S.' defense lawyer asked for several weeks' detainment.
Walid S. was 20 years old at the time of both incidents.
cmb/kms (AFP, dpa)