Trial of Parents in Child Neglect Case Begins | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.08.2005
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Trial of Parents in Child Neglect Case Begins

The trial of two parents suspected of letting their 7-year-old daughter starve to death by locking her in a room of their Hamburg apartment face began on Wednesday. The couple face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.


Jessica's grave -- her body weighed just 21 pounds

Notified by the mother of the 7-year-old girl, police turned up at the Hamburg apartment in March to find Jessica's skeletal body, weighing just 21 pounds.

Her parents told police that she had been vomiting, and then fell into a coma after crawling into bed with her father. An autopsy later revealed she had choked on her own vomit, likely induced by an intestinal obstruction caused by a lack of food.

On Wednesday, a regional court judge charged the 36-year-old mother and 49-year-old father with murder by neglect, saying they had agreed to let Jessica die of hunger.

A lawyer for the mother, identified only as Marlies Sch. told a packed courtroom that she would plead guilty, but not implicate the father, whom he described as a weak-willed man.

"My client plans to confess her guilt. She does not expect any understanding or compassion," he said.

A shocked nation

Jessica's horrific death shocked the country earlier this year. Soon after her body was taken away, police put the parents in jail, as prosecutors began piecing together their case.

Police later said the parents had kept the girl in a darkened room, with no heating and no access to water or a toilet. Citing investigators, a report in this week's Der Spiegel revealed that the father, identified only as Burkhard M. tried to set a trap to electrocute the young girl.

Psychiatrists have since speculated that the parents, who apparently had alcohol problems, suffer from extreme personality problems rooted in their own traumatic experiences as children. The parents denied having had a hand in their daughter's death, and portrayed her as difficult child to investigators, according to Spiegel.

Nobody knew

Beerdigung von Jessica in Hamburg

Jessica's funeral: Germans mourned the little girl who never had any friends during her short life.

The little girl apparently had no friends, having never attended any sort of kindergarten or school. Neighbors said they saw very little of the girl, and only saw her parents go in and out of the apartment.

The statements are eerily similar to those given recently by the neighbors of a Brandenburg woman suspected by police of giving birth to and then killing nine infants, prompting Germany's largest Sunday newspaper to complain about the indifference among Germans.

"The population looks away, in the country as well as in the big city," wrote Bild am Sonntag.

In Jessica's case, Hamburg school authorities came under attack for not doing more after sending someone to the apartment to find out what was wrong. Although authorities sent the parents a notice to pay a penalty for not enrolling their child in school, they failed to notify the state's child protection agency.

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