German neo-Nazi trial lawyers ask to quit

  • 21/07/2015

Germany's landmark murder and terrorism trial of the surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell has been interrupted after three public defence lawyers asked to be relieved of their duties.

The lawyers had repeatedly clashed with the woman in the dock, 40-year-old Beate Zschaepe, the surviving member of the alleged killer trio called the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

The NSU is blamed for the assassination-style gun murders of 10 people - eight men with Turkish roots, a Greek migrant and a German policewoman - between 2000 and 2007.

Zschaepe is accused of aiding the killings and other crimes, including a nail-bomb attack in a Cologne migrant neighbourhood which wounded at least 23, and 15 bank robberies to finance the NSU.

The NSU's two male members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, died in 2011 after a botched bank robbery, in an apparent murder-suicide while hiding in their getaway vehicle, a rented camper van.

Zschaepe has stayed silent since the start of her high-profile trial in May 2013, held under tight security in the southern city of Munich.

She had repeatedly clashed with her three court-appointed lawyers - Wolfgang Heer, Wolfgang Stahl and Anja Sturm - and tried to fire them a year ago, unsuccessfully.

On Monday (local time), the three lawyers asked to stop representing her. The court adjourned its hearings to consider the request.

Recently the court had appointed a fourth lawyer, Mathias Grasel.

It was not immediately clear whether the court would grant the lawyers' request to quit, and whether this could force a mistrial.

Germany was shocked in 2011 to find that the bloody murder spree - long blamed by police and media on migrant crime gangs - was in fact committed by a far-right group with xenophobic motives.

The random discovery deeply embarrassed authorities, exposing security flaws and raising uncomfortable questions about how the cell went undetected for 13 years.