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CRIME

Talking to self not evidence, court rules

Germany’s highest court has ruled that an overheard soliloquy cannot be used as evidence against a suspect, meaning that a two-year-old murder case will have to be re-tried.

Talking to self not evidence, court rules
Photo: DPA

The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (BGH), based in the western German town of Karlsruhe, ruled on Thursday that talking to yourself belongs to the “innermost, unreachable area of the personality,” and therefore came under the jurisdiction of the freedom of thought.

The ruling was made following an appeal in a case from 2009, when a Cologne court convicted three people of murdering a woman, when, since the victim was never found, the decisive prosecution evidence was a series of overheard conversations, as well as monologues the main suspect was having with himself in which the word “kill” was heard.

That case will now have to be re-tried in another Cologne court, where other evidence will have to be assessed.

The court did rule that not all conversations with yourself count as private. For a conversation to be inadmissible as evidence, it must be recognizable as a private expression of thoughts. If it is clear that a suspect knows that someone may be overhearing him or her, whether in a public or a private place, that defence is no longer valid.

The judges ruled that talking to yourself is often characterized by the fact that sentences are often fragmentary, and therefore open to interpretation. “That is a substantial difference to a diary entry,” explained presiding judge Thomas Fischer.

Diary entries may be used as evidence in serious crimes like murder.

The Local/bk

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CRIME

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person so far to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust.

Former Nazi camp guard, 101, gets five-year jail sentence

Josef S. was found guilty of being an accessory to murder while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, between 1942 and 1945, presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and was not aware of the gruesome crimes being carried out at the camp.

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial on Monday.

But prosecutors said he “knowingly and willingly” participated in the murders of 3,518 prisoners at the camp and called for him to be punished with five years behind bars.

READ ALSO: Trials of aging Nazis a ‘reminder for the present’, says German prosecutor

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, regime opponents and gay people, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp between 1936 and 1945.

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labour, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.

Prosecutors said the man had aided and abetted the “execution by firing squad of Soviet prisoners of war in 1942” and the murder of prisoners “using the poisonous gas Zyklon B”.

He was 21 years old at the time.

Contradictory statements

During the trial, S. made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up”.

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural labourer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth.

After the war, the man was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith.

He remained at liberty during the trial, which began in 2021 but has been delayed several times because of his health.

Despite his conviction, he is highly unlikely to be put behind bars, given his age.

His lawyer Stefan Waterkamp told AFP ahead of the verdict that if found guilty, he would appeal.

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice.

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk, on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these twilight justice cases.

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused.

By David COURBET

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