Retrial for asylum-seeker death in Dessau jail begins

Retrial for asylum-seeker death in Dessau jail begins
Photo: DPA
A retrial in the case of an asylum-seeker who burned to death six years ago in a Dessau jail began Wednesday. A 50-year-old police officer faces charges of bodily harm with fatal consequences.

As the trial began, human rights activists lit candles and called out, “It was murder!”

On January 7, 2005, 23-year-old Oury Jalloh, an asylum-seeker from Sierra Leone, allegedly set fire to a mattress with a cigarette lighter while his hands and feet were shackled to a jail cell bed. State prosecutors said he could have been saved if police had acted fast enough to get him out of the cell.

The now 50-year-old senior officer and a colleague said they had tied Jalloh’s hands and feet because he had been violent after being arrested for drunkenly harassing women. When the fire alarm went off they allegedly turned it off several times before checking the jail cell.

But last January the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled that the December 2008 decision by the Dessau-Roßlau regional court to acquit the police officer was flawed.

The chain of events could not have happened as it was presented during the trial, the court ruled. Judges were unable to determine whether Jalloh set the fire himself, or how it would have been possible to do so, calling it a “substantial gap in the consideration of evidence.”

The Magdeburg regional court will now take up the case to determine whether the senior officer was at fault for Jalloh’s death, which sparked outrage among human rights activists in Germany.

A verdict is expected this summer.