One of modern Germany’s most emotional trials ended Friday in guilty verdicts for four young men accused of fatally fire-bombing a Turkish family’s house in the western city of Solingen.
The 1993 arson attack killed five young women and girls and critically injured three other people, including small children. It provoked the outrage of millions of foreigners living in Germany, of politicians in Ankara and of thousands of ordinary Germans, who took to the streets to complain that the government wasn’t doing enough to protect foreign residents from a wave of neo-Nazi brutality.
The much-watched trial had been called Germany’s counterpart to the O.J. Simpson proceedings, as it included questions of racism and possible police misconduct. The five-judge panel found itself, as did the Simpson jury, called upon to right social wrongs that seemed to have little direct bearing on the actual facts of the case.
And, as with the Simpson trial, some Germans remained uncertain that justice had really been done after the verdicts were read. Two of the defendants had stoutly protested their innocence throughout the 18-month trial, and the prosecution could offer no physical evidence to prove its case.
The reading of the verdicts trig gered tumultuous scenes in the Duesseldorf courtroom, with one defendant, Felix Koehnen, 18, crying out, “I’m not guilty,” calling the judges “pigs” and bursting into tears.
Koehnen and two other defendants who were minors at the time of the killings were sentenced to 10 years in a prison for young people, Germany’s maximum term for offenders under age 21.
A fourth defendant, Markus Gartmann, 25, was sentenced to 15 years in a regular prison. The prosecution had asked for life imprisonment.
Germany had awaited Friday’s verdicts with trepidation. Turkish community groups, fearful of race riots if the white defendants were acquitted or lightly sentenced, appealed in advance for calm, issuing leaflets, making public announcements and hanging posters in mosques.
Outside the courthouse Friday, about 80 people, most of Turkish descent, waited anxiously, then expressed general satisfaction when the news of the convictions came.
“A peaceful coexistence between Turks and Germans will now be more possible,” said Faruk Sen, head of the Essen-based Center for Turkish Studies.
But others among Germany’s Turkish population, nearly 2 million strong, argued that the sentences should have been longer.
Under German immigration law, Turks and other foreign-born residents of Germany are generally considered foreigners no matter how long they have lived here. The Solingen family whose house was fire-bombed had been living in the same house for the past 30 years.
The Solingen attack came at the peak of a wave of anti-foreigner violence that swept Germany in the late 1980s and intensified with the 1990 unification of East and West Germany.
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