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18th Day of Trial Short Report: Psychiatric Assessment Supports Holding the Accused Responsible

On 3 November 2020, the 18th day of the Halle trial, three experts and a survivor from the synagogue testified. The joint-plaintiff, once again, criticized the police’s handling of the attack. The attacker of Halle was angered by a psychiatrist who stated that he had a personality disorder and found him guilty. Once again, the accused provoked survivors and confirmed his antisemitic world views.

First, the senior physician at the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the University Hospital Halle, Prof Dr Steffen Heide, who had prepared a forensic medical report, was summoned. Immediately after his arrest by the police tactical unit (SEK) officials on 9 October 2019, the accused was taken to the emergency room because he had a neck injury sustained in a shooting exchange while fleeing. Professor Heide reported that the accused first received medical care and then underwent surgery. He could remember the day very clearly, said Professor Heide, as this was an exceptional situation for him in his 26-year career. He described the accused in the emergency room as “introverted” and physically and psychologically “extremely tense”. He answered questions with delay and behaved cooperatively, but did not give any information about the crime. The toxicology examination showed that the accused was not under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs, according to the 53-year-old forensic scientist. During the investigation, the accused had not shown any suicidal intentions. Similarly, there had not been any evidence that the accused inflicted the gunshot wound on himself, as falsely stated by SEK officials.

Subsequently, the 31-year-old photographer and graphic designer Valentin L. described how he experienced the attack. L. was one of the organizers of a group of Jews who had traveled from Berlin to Halle to spend Yom Kippur in Halle on 9 October 2019. In advance, Valentin L. declared that he did not testify earlier because he did not dare to. He wanted to “push the attack away” from himself. It was only over the course of the trial and after the statements of the joint-plaintiffs that he realized its importance, which is why he changed his mind and wanted to testify.

During a walk together the evening before through downtown Halle, the group had felt safe and “at home”; L. described the day as “wonderful.” All the more unexpected, he said, was the attack during the Torah lecture. At first he could not believe that “something bad” happened. He thought that someone wanted to scare them and harm them. He did not want to let this happen and tried to give hope to those present. They then tried to barricade the synagogue. He did not know that anyone was killed at that time. He described having to leave the synagogue after the attack as “formative,” since this would violate religious commandments in Yom Kippur. The synagogue meant security to him. 

Like many other plaintiffs, L. criticized the behavior of the police, saying they had been “torn apart” and “humiliated” by police forces outside the synagogue. “Not only from a material point of view,” he said, the police appeared “very unprepared,” which made him feel even more insecure. He could feel the fear of the police officers. He was “deeply affected,” he said, because the officers did not know “what Jewish holidays were.”

He was “unbelievably happy” to come to Germany as a refugee in 2005 and experienced “a lot of love in society”. It is important to understand the problem as a social problem, emphasized Valentin L. Antisemitism “can be seen as an illness, but not as an illness of an individual but of the whole of society,” said the witness. Antisemitism spreads in society like a malignant tumor. Years ago, he noted that Jews and Jewish culture in Germany were being suppressed. After the attack, he began to organize more Jewish events “for the whole of society”. The problem lies “with all of us and not the perpetrator” and “the individual perpetrator is only a tool of the overall social problem”, said Valentin L.

Once again, the accused tried to provoke the survivor of the attack by asking questions. Thus, immediately after Valentin L.’s statement, he asked whether L. knew what “Jewish Bolsheviks” had done to the Russian Tsarist country. “Yes, it is in the history books,” Valentin L. replied succinctly.

For the assessment of the criminal culpability of the accused, the psychiatrist and neurologist Prof Dr Norbert Leygraf prepared a psychiatric report. During his interrogation, Professor Leygraf noted that the accused had only participated in the investigation in order to avoid being publicly portrayed as mentally ill. He had always tried to convey that the act had nothing to do with his personal problems. During the interrogation, he confined himself almost exclusively to information about the crime and his political convictions. 

During the investigation, Professor Leygraf was able to establish a “paranoid basic suspicion” of Stephan B. The accused had the idea of being constantly “controlled and spied on by others in order to harm him”. This “fundamental mistrust” prevents him from building trusting relationships with people. According to Prof Leygraf, there are parallels to an autism spectrum disorder. However, a diagnosis is difficult, especially in adulthood, because symptoms are often covered up.

The expert said that the accused had shown significant deficits in emotional responsiveness and signs of a severe personality disorder. He had neither shown any shock nor had he regretted the act. He perceived the deaths as merely collateral damage. The accused had shown above all annoyance that he had not succeeded in executing his plan. He assumed that the accused would act like this again if he could. 

The accused had spoken “comprehensively” about his own antisemitic convictions, with “recognizable eagerness to speak” and “a certain pride” about the knowledge he acquired. He responded to critical questions by threatening to end the investigation. On the third day, the accused ended the interrogation by “loudly swearing”.

Professor Leygraf said he assumed that the accused “never dealt with anyone personally” and that there was no communication with reference persons neither online nor offline. He had merely felt that he belonged to a “diffuse group of white men”. It was clear that he perceived it as a “shameful flaw” not to be able to establish a relationship with a woman. The expert concluded that, despite the described conspicuous features, there were no indications of mental illness on the part of the accused and it could be assumed that he was guilty. According to Professor Leygraf, “from a psychiatric point of view, there is no impairment of guilt”.

Previously, the psychologist Lisa John presented an expert opinion on the cognitive performance and personality of the accused which she wrote in preparation for Prof Leygraf’s report. Her psychological testing confirmed the results of Professor Leygraf’s clinical examination. During the three-and-a-half-hour session with the accused, John observed that the test person was trying to conceal unpleasant character traits. She also observed “maladjusted” and “excessive” laughter during the examination.

The accused was very angry about Prof Leygraf’s psychiatric report. On several occasions, he emphasized that he wanted to take a stand, as he had been misrepresented in the report. This annoyed him especially because the press would immediately spread the word. For example, the report stated that he owned a pornography collection. That is wrong, because he had only collected anime pictures. The “entire American porn industry” is Jewish and he wants nothing to do with it. “As “an antisemite” he was “injured in his honor”. In addition, his behavior had been misinterpreted: although it was true that he ate a can of fish every day for a time in 2015, this was not a sign of autistic disorder, but was part of his preparation for an impending civil war. 

At the beginning of the trial day, the presiding judge Mertens referred to stricter hygiene measures in the court building and noted that due to the current development of the corona pandemic, seats for visitors and press may have to be restricted in the future. The trial will continue on November 4.