Judges sentenced Beate Zschaepe to a life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organisation and other acts of violence committed by the neo-nazi organisation National Social Underground (NSU).
As reported by AP, when reading out the final statement, presiding judge Manfred Goetzl pointed out to a packed Munich courtroom that Zschaepe's guilt weighed particularly heavily, meaning, an early release after 15 years is legally possible, but extremely unlikely.
The court also found four men were guilty of supporting the group in various ways and sentenced them to prison terms of between two-and-a-half and ten years.
Zschaepe was arrested in 2011, shortly after her two accomplices were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Together with the men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, she had formed the National Socialist Underground, a group that pursued an ideology of white racial supremacy by targeting migrants, mostly of Turkish origin.
With their judgement in the NSU trial the judges under Manfred Götzl followed what many lawyers and campaigners had been calling for – especially the decision to convict Zschaepe as an accomplice, even though there was no evidence she had been physically present at the crime scenes.
The case against Zschaepe hinged heavily on this question of whether judges would hold her equally as culpable for the killings as her two dead accomplices, with her lawyers trying to portray Zschaepe as a naive woman who played no active role in the killings, bomb attacks and bank robberies committed by Mundlos and Boehnhardt.
Zschaepe rarely spoke during the five-year trial, refusing to answer questions from lawyers representing the victims' families. Toward the end, she expressed regret for the families' loss and described herself as "morally guilty" but urged the court not to convict her "for something that I neither wanted nor did."
The court, however, credited Zschaepe with a major role in camouflaging the NSU and argued that she “had known everything, carried everything and in her own way, lead and caused.” This line of argument is being followed by the court with the sentence. The statement, read out by Götzl, reasoned that it is not strictly necessary to be present in person and that Zschaepe's contribution was "essential for carrying out the robberies and attacks," which could not have happened without her.