Expat's family battles for answers four years on

Tom Bristow
Tom Bristow - [email protected] • 21 Oct, 2014 Updated Tue 21 Oct 2014 12:26 CEST
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In 2010 an Irish computer engineer was found dead in his apartment in Baden-Württemberg. Four years on, his family are still pressing the German justice system for answers. They feel badly let down by police who they say have refused to examine evidence of foul play.

Matthew Fitzpatrick’s body was discovered in his apartment in Mannheim on December 11th 2010 at 11am.

He had been in the south-west German city for three years, working for a pharmaceutical company and was looking forward to heading home for Christmas two days later. He had already bought presents for his family back in Galway.

But that is almost all his family know for sure.

They want Mannheim police to reopen an investigation to address their many unanswered questions surrounding the death.

But police are refusing and say they have already extensively investigated the case. A court must now decide whether officers should open a murder probe. 

Why the injuries?

An autopsy on December 15th in Heidelberg, four days after his body was found, concluded Matthew's death was suicide by hanging.

But this, according to the Fitzpatrick family lawyer, is where the first mistake was made.

She said an officer told the coroner before his examination that Matthew was found hanging, thus affecting the outcome of the autopsy.

An autopsy in Dublin on December 18th came to very different conclusions about the condition of Matthew's body.

It discovered dozens of injuries, including defensive wounds, finger print marks on his elbow and an injury on the back of his head.

“There is a dramatic difference between the German and Irish autopsy,” his brother Patrick told The Local. “There were a lot of injuries on Matthew’s body which we’re not sure how they got there.”

“No reason was given to the injury on back of his head. German authorities put it down to a skin irritation but there was no reference to that in the police’s investigation.”

Disappointed with the police’s probe into his death, the family gathered 400 pages of their own evidence.

They found that Matthew’s computer and personal laptop were accessed after his death.

One of his computers, which went missing from the apartment before police arrived, was logged into the day after his body was found.

“We also have mobile phone records which account for where he was [the day of his death], which contradicts eyewitness accounts,” Patrick said.

Matthew’s camera and a baseball bat were also missing from his flat and have not been recovered.

Where was the body?

Meanwhile, the witness who found Matthew has changed their story about the location and position of the body three times.

They first said his body was hanging from a balcony door handle.

That story then changed on two more occasions, with a different account of the position and location of his body given each time. “Every time we’ve challenged eyewitness evidence the story has changed,” Patrick said.

He also believes that the three different accounts given of the body position are "medically and mathematically' impossible".

None of this evidence regarding injuries, body position and stolen property which the family gathered and presented to Mannheim investigators in February 2012 appeared in a second police investigation into Matthew’s death which concluded this year, the family say.

‘Let down by police’

The family’s lawyer in Germany, Dr Helga Müller, told The Local: “I have seen photos of the body. There are clearly injuries which cannot be the result of hanging. It cannot be a suicide. There is just too much evidence against [that theory].”

“Nobody knows how the hanging happened,” Müller added. “And that is reflected in the police files.”

Patrick also said no police forensics were done in the apartment after Matthew’s body was found.

“There are too many unanswered questions,” he added.

Müller, meanwhile, said a police officer in the initial investigation, which closed after two weeks, was very reluctant to investigate anything other than suicide.

“They didn’t go into the evidence. They didn’t regard the injuries,” she said. “The police’s first probe finished very quickly.”

The Fitzpatricks put in a complaint to police about an officer in that first investigation.

In Germany police complaints are investigated by the police, rather than by an independent, outside body. The family’s complaint was not only dismissed, but Müller said after it was lodged the second police investigation slowed down.

They were initially told it would take six to seven months, but it took two years.

That investigation which opened in 2012 concluded in February 2014 and found that Matthew had committed suicide.

Despite the two-year wait, the family said the second investigation failed to answer any of their questions or address the inconsistencies which they raised in their 400-page report surrounding Matthew’s death.

“They ignored much of the evidence that we brought them,” Patrick said.

“The investigation carried out was determined to prove that Matthew had psychological problems.” 

While that police investigation as ongoing, a coroner in Dublin in 2011 returned an open verdict on the question of whether or not suicide had been the cause of death.

The family has now appealed to the Higher District Court (Oberlandesgericht) in Karlsruhe to force the police and prosecutors to reopen the investigation and take the family’s evidence into account.

That court has now received the family’s 400 pages of evidence as part of 1,000 pages of police documents into the case. A verdict is expected in the coming weeks.

“We have to continue pressuring,” Patrick said.

“We are a bit further on but still it is not enough,” Müller added.

Irish pub links?

Several people in the Irish pub scene in Mannheim have been questioned about Matthew’s death, Müller told The Local.

But she disputes some of their accounts of what happened on December 11th 2010, saying they are contradictory. 

One person who may have been able to help police with their investigation was called in but then not interviewed, simply because he needed a translator, Müller said.

A spokesman for Mannheim prosecutors defended the police investigation and addressed the allegations and concerns raised by the family.
He told The Local: "The extensive investigation in Mannheim, led by experienced detectives, came to the conclusion that Matthew Fitzpatrick committed suicide. There has been no substantial suspicion of criminal involvement by anyone.
"The numerous arguments of the family were considered and tested extensively. This explains why the process took two years.
"There was no severe head injury. An autopsy was carried out on the body immediately by the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Heidelberg. No evidence of foul play was found.
"The police searched the apartment of the deceased in the normal way. Again, this led to no suspicions of third party involvement.
"It is understandable from a human perspective that the family of the deceased are not satisfied with these results, but this does not change the objective facts." 

Back in Ireland, the family is pressuring the Irish government to help them out.

They wrote a letter to the Justice Minister, Foreign Affairs Minister and acting Garda Commissioner in April 2014 about the case.

It asked them to “make formal representation to the German authorities” and also notes that, “as an Irish citizen, Matthew’s rights have been seriously violated,” Irish news site The Journal reported.

The Fitzpatricks' feelings are perhaps best summed up on their website, Justice for Matthew: “Why are the German police ignoring the murder of Matthew Fitzpatrick? Is this because Matthew is a foreigner in Germany or is it something more sinister in the Mannheim area?”

They are now waiting and hoping the court in Karlsruhe will order police to reopen the investigation and answer their many questions over his death.

"The Mannheim Prosecutor state that their investigation has considered and tested our evidence extensively; this is false," Patrick said.

"We provided the prosecutor with medical evidence of up to 45 injuries to Matthew's body, yet there was no attempt by the police to contact the pathologist in Dublin to discuss.  

"We provided medical and technical evidence which proved that Matthew was not found hanging, yet this was ignored by the police.  

"The fact is that Matthew was murdered in Mannheim. the people who carried out this crime are still walking free. It is time that the Mannheim prosecutor and police serve and protect the lives of the innocent and bring to justice those who carried out this despicable act."



Tom Bristow 2014/10/21 12:26

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