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Landlord gets life for gas explosion

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Landlord gets life for gas explosion
Post-explosion clean up efforts in 1997. Photo: dpa
13:46 CET+01:00
Almost 11 years after a devastating gas explosion killed six at a Düsseldorf apartment building, the landlord was sentenced to life in prison on Friday morning.

In one of the longest murder trials in German legal history, the Duisburg county regional court in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia found 48-year-old Heinz N., the former landlord of the building, guilty of six counts of murder. The court also made a point of declaring the gravity of his guilt, barring the possibility of release after serving a minimum of 15 years.

"He wanted to topple the walls of the house and hazard the deaths of the renters," said the presiding judge Wolfgang Ramacher.

According to the court, the man instructed his friend, a roofer, to turn up the cellar gas main. He blew the house up in the middle of the night on July 24, 1997, killing sleeping residents because he found his rent earnings too low. The roofer is already serving a life sentence for his hand in the crime.

Because of the long length of the trial, the court reduced the sentence by four years. The German Federal Court of Justice overruled two previous verdicts from the Düsseldorf regional court and sent the case to Duisburg for a retrial.

Heinz N. spoke for himself for the first time during this trial and asserted that he only wanted to scare the "recalcitrant" residents into believing the building was in desperate need of renovation.

In a bizarre turn of events, the convicted murderer will go free until the conviction takes effect. The Federal Constitutional Court arranged for his release after eight years of detention and four years of amnesty because his lengthy detention while awaiting trial was due to the fault of justice system failures.

"I don't understand why he isn't being hauled off to jail immediately," said one of the explosion's survivors, who was severely injured, in addition losing her daughter in the incident.

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