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CRIME

Berlin court sentences street racers to life for murder in national first

A court in the German capital on Monday convicted two illegal street racers who caused a deadly high-speed car crash of murder and handed them life prison terms in a landmark ruling.

Berlin court sentences street racers to life for murder in national first
The crash debris in western Berlin. Photo: DPA

Hamdi H. and Marvin N. were each sentenced to maximum jail terms after the prosecution sought a conviction of murder rather than manslaughter. It was the first time in Germany that a court had found street racers guilty of murder. 

The prosecution argued that even if the men did not plan to kill anyone during their race on February 1st, 2016, they had accepted the likelihood of deadly consequences.

The murder verdict means they will spend a minimum 15 years behind bars and came as Germany is seeking to toughen its laws against illegal street racing.

The pair were racing through western Berlin, running a series of red lights, when Hamdi H. crashed at 160 kilometres per hour into a jeep near the city's landmark KaDeWe shopping centre.

The 69-year-old driver of the jeep was killed on the spot.

The men's defence lawyers had pleaded for a manslaughter conviction for Hamdi H. and sought a lesser charge of endangering street traffic for Marvin N.

During the trial, a psychologist described one of the defendants as “extremely overly self-confident” and said he was determined to “win in order to boost his ego”, reported national news agency DPA.

Germany's transport ministry is mulling making such races punishable by up to 10 years' prison rather than treating them as administrative offences carrying a fine and a temporary suspension of the driver's licence.

In addition, convicted persons would routinely have their driver's licence revoked and vehicles impounded.

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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