License to Kill (Sentencing in a German Court)

Posted by John Rosenthal

Germany’s militancy in opposing the death penalty is well known – even if the grounds for German "leadership" in this connection are perhaps less glorious than one might suppose. But what do the German courts regard as appropriate punishment for a particularly heinous murder? The sentences received by two brothers, Vitali O. and Alex O., following the murder of one of the younger brother’s teachers in Ahrensburg last year are instructive. Here a translated excerpt from an article on the case in Friday’s edition (2 June) of Die Welt:

The two brothers, who were in fact known to be polite and well-behaved, had threatened the teacher in their rage over bad grades [received by the younger brother]. In the end, the elder brother slaughtered the helpless 55-year-old woman, stabbing her ten times in the chest and neck and cold-bloodedly slitting her throat with a 30 centimeter long blade. "This court has never before seen an act of such gravity occasioned by such an insignificant matter," the shocked judge remarked in handing down the sentences last October. The today 22-year-old murderer had himself spoken of "butchering" [the teacher]. His now 19-year-old brother was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months in prison. The 22-year-old to 8 years and 9 months.


The younger brother was found guilty on a lesser charge than murder and his sentence is now being appealed on the grounds that he ought to have been held co-responsible for the murder of the teacher. Both he and his elder brother – whose sentence, n.B., is not being appealed – were sentenced as minors. The elder brother was 20 at the time of the crime. German law permits persons between 18 and 20 years of age – literally classified as "still growing" [Heranwachsende] – to be judged as minors. A large use is made of this peculiar provision of German law. The practice has particularly serious consequences for the repression of violent crimes of a racist or xenophobic character, since the perpetrators of such crimes are frequently young adults – or, at any rate, persons who other than in Germany would be regarded as such.

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