On August 25, 2020, the trial against the alleged assassin of Halle resumed after a three-week break. On the sixth day of the trial, six members of the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) were questioned – three of whom as experts and three as witnesses – about the weapons and explosives used in the attack. Furthermore, one had to notice right-wing extremists in the audience of the court on this day.
The police officers first interviewed were not particularly helpful: two police officers repeatedly stated that they could not actually comment on the details of their reports as witnesses, as they had only gathered findings from their colleagues. The presiding judge, Judge Mertens, expressed her dissatisfaction and noted that if the reports were marked appropriately, she would have reconsidered the witnesses summoning to appear in court. One of these witnesses, Oliver D., summarized as part of the investigation for the BKA which findings were available regarding the two brothers who shared the assassin’s documents and weapon building instructions, including 3D print files for weapon parts, online on 4chan after the crime. He said that these investigations did not play a major role for them at the time. The co-plaintiff’s representatives Sebastian Scharmer and Kristin Pietrzyk delved deeper on why the BKA had paid so little attention to the spreading of calls for murder and weapon-building instructions, and why they falsely claimed in a report that the brothers’ right-wing extremist affiliations were not evident, even though there were previous convictions for sedition.
Dr. Silke Cox, head of the department “Fire and Room Explosion” at the BKA, presented her expert opinion regarding the accused’s attempt to set fire to the synagogue in several variations, which she presented in detail by a series of videos which she reconstructed. She summed this up by stating that there was no danger to synagogue visitors in the respective situation due to the combination of the incendiary agent and the material used.
Thomas F., as an expert witness, presented the results of an investigation into the explosives used in front of the synagogue. A considerable and potentially fatal danger emanated from them. For example, a splinter flew through a window on the second floor about 30 meters away from the site of the explosion and smashed 3 cm deep into a door frame. Another detective was questioned regarding a so-called follow-up investigation in connection with these explosions: On October 30, three weeks after the crime, he found numerous components of explosive and incendiary devices at the scene, including two Molotov cocktails.
In the afternoon, chairwoman Mertens ordered the weapons (which were seized from the accused in his getaway car and from crime scenes) to be placed on a table and presented by the expert Michael B.. The defendant is said to have built most of his weapons himself: According to the investigations, he allegedly ordered and collected weapon parts already in 2015, parts whose usage for the assault weapons can be proven. Additional suspicious orders for supplies by the accused could be traced back to as early as 2012 and 2014.
Michael B., The 60-year-old BKA official explained in detail the functioning and background of each of the weapons. In principle, most of the weapons – and all of those that were actually used – were capable of causing fatal injuries. In case of doubt, however, it would also depend on what the accused “was capable of”. When the co-plaintiffs asked questions, the expert often first tried to interpret the legal background of the question and only then answered it. Therefore, the actual content of the question was often lost in the process. The policeman also reported during his statements, from his own service with a special task force and the German Armed Forces, in an irritatingly anecdotal manner, pointing his hand towards a defence lawyer and illustrating with acting, how the magazine of a machine pistol must be emptied during a mission, whereby he directed himself towards the joint plaintiffs. He apparently took pleasure in this performance with the accused who interrupted the expert several times in order to start a dialogue about the weapons with him. A similar reaction was already seen in the accused, during the testimony of the explosives; the accused obviously wished to create an impression of himself as a particularly knowledgeable expert. Again and again he laughed at the comments of the weapons expert. The presiding judge addressed him on two occasions and said that there was not really anything to laugh about.
When the expert claimed that two firearms did not work in the police tests, the accused objected determinedly. He himself claimed to have tested them successfully. Although, on the first two days of the trial he denied having carried out such weapon tests in advance. When Jan Siebenhüner, an attorney for the joint plaintiffs, pointed out this contradiction, the accused explained that although he had tested the weapons in a specially manufactured box in his father’s shed, he had not trained how to shoot with the weapons, for example at a target. However, all weapons had been used once for testing purposes with live ammunition. The expert explained that this must have been heard around his father’s house, but that nowadays many bangs would not even be noticed.
At the beginning of the trial day, joint plaintiff attorney Alexander Hoffmann pointed out to the presiding judge that a right-wing extremist known to him was in the audience, while refusing to wear the mandatory mouth-and-nose protection. The attending Katja K., who is involved in the PEGIDA scene and attended the neo-Nazi “Shield and Sword” festival in June 2019, triumphantly waved a medical certificate in response. The chairwoman checked this and read out that K. was recommended not to wear a mouth and nose protector during stress. But as she was sitting quietly in the courtroom, she should put it on, the chairwoman said. K. left the room shortly afterwards. Jens Lorek, a lawyer affiliated with the right-wing extremist scene, was also briefly present as a guest.
The trial will continue on Wednesday, August 26. The object of the hearing shall then be the accused’s social environment, especially his online contacts.