Germany: 9.5 year sentence for murder that sparked demonstrations last year, convicted suspect insists he did not do it
On 22 August a court in Dresden, Germany sent Alaa S., a young citizen of Syria, to prison for 9.5 years for stabbing Daniel Hillig, a 35-year-old German citizen, to death last year in Chemnitz, a town in Saxony not far from the border with the Czech Republic. The case sparked extensive demonstrations that were attended in large numbers by right-wing radicals and had national political consequences.
The court unambiguously agreed with the prosecutor, who sought a punishment of 10 years in prison. The defense attorney for Alaa S., who says he is not guilty, wanted acquittal.
Hillig was murdered in the early morning hours of 26 August 2018. Detectives first accused three men of committing the crime.
Alaa S. was the only one of the trio to stand trial, as police never managed to arrest one of the suspects, a young citizen of Iraq. The prosecutor later announced that the third man originally suspected of participating in the crime had not in fact done so.
The 24-year-old Alaa S. has consistently rejected having anything to do with the crime. Police did not find traces of his DNA on the murder weapon, so the prosecutor built the case, to a significant degree, on the testimony of one eyewitness who was at a refreshment stand near the scene of the crime and who claimed to have seen Alaa S. make movements in the victim's direction that looked like either delivering blows or stabbing.
During the trial that witness altered his testimony, though. For that reason, the defense sought acquittal, release, and compensation for the time Alaa S. has already spent in pre-trial detention of almost one year.
The defense also called on the court not to be influenced by pressure from politicians and the public. "It was necessary for a culprit to be identified so there will be calm in Chemnitz," defense attorney Ricarda Lang opined after the sentencing was announced.
The indictment considered Alaa S.'s guilt to have been proven and proposed 10 years in prison for the murder of Hillig and the grievous bodily harm caused to yet another person during the altercation. The court agreed with that perspective.
The stabbing of Hillig sparked a series of demonstrations, some of which were attended by hundreds of right-wing radicals. Some of them assaulted immigrants, journalists and police officers during the demonstrations, while others gave the Nazi salute on those occasions.
An attack on a Jewish restaurant was also perpetrated during the unrest. All of this sparked indignation nationally and led to a long debate about whether the assaults against foreign nationals in Chemnitz, where demonstrations against the extreme-right were later also organized, should be considered an organized "hunt" for such victims.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's counter-intelligence services, eventually lost his job after he made untrue statements during a discussion about the events. The trial of Alaa S. was originally meant to continue in October, and due to the great local interest in the outcome it was not held in Chemnitz for security reasons, but in Dresden, the capital of Saxony.
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