D A R M S T A D T, Germany, Dec. 22, 2000 -- A German court convicted threeAmerican teenagers of murder today for dropping large chunks ofrock from a highway overpass onto passing vehicles, killing twowomen and injuring four other people.
The three, all sons of U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany, weresentenced to up to 8 ½ years in prison for what their lawyers hadargued was an ill-conceived contest without any intent to killanyone.
“There is no adequate punishment for what we have done,” theeldest defendant told the court in closed session beforesentencing, according to defense lawyer Ulrich Endres.
The defendants, ages 14, 17 and 18 at the time of the Feb. 27 attacks,were tried as juveniles.
Prosecutors had demanded the maximum 10 years on murderconvictions for minors.
Lawyers for the teenagers had argued for a conviction on alesser charge of negligent homicide, and said they planned toappeal. The court did not adequately take into account the youths’state of mind, attorney Hans Georg Kaschel said, quoting apsychiatric expert who testified to their “temporary disregard ofreality.”
Stones as Big as Breadboxes
Judge Bertram Schmitt said the teens acted out of boredom andthat they sought progressively larger stones after failing at firstto hit any vehicles, using the approaching headlights as targets inthe darkness.
“They didn’t set out to kill people but there was a qualifiedintent,” the judge said. “The defendants had recognized thepossibility that people could die.”
Ultimately, the deadly stones were as big as breadboxes,Schmitt said, so heavy at 18 pounds that one youth had to hand themup to the other two, perched on top of a barrier along a pedestrianwalkway near the housing of the U.S. Army base here.
“They kept raising the level of risk until the people in thecars had no chance,” Schmitt said. “It’s like a game of Russianroulette except they were not putting their lives at risk, butthose of people unknown to them.”
Adult Prison Possible
They hit six cars, killing Karin Rothermel, 41, and SandraOttmann, 20, who was struck by an 18-pound stone that came to restin the back seat on a birthday gift for her grandfather. Fourpeople were injured.
The teens also were convicted of three counts of attemptedmurder and of endangering traffic.
The two 18-year-old defendants were sentenced to 8 1/2 years andeight years, respectively. The youngest, now 15, was given sevenyears. They have been held in custody since their arrests.
The youths, wearing casual clothes and handcuffs, looked down asthe sentences were read. Their families maintained their silence,and did not comment on the case.
Under German law, minors convicted of crimes are held injuvenile facilities until their 24th birthdays, when a court maydecide to transfer them to adult prisons.
The defense lawyers said the teens treated the stone-throwing asa contest to see who could hit moving vehicles.
“They didn’t want to kill anyone. They wanted to hitvehicles,” Endres said.
He said testimony from the victims and their families had sincegiven the teens a sense of the gravity of their actions.
“They’re visibly suffering from the consequences of what theyhave done,” Endres said.
Among those in court today was Elfriede Becker, whose car washit by a stone.
“I wanted to see them. I came, and I saw them, and I said,‘This can’t be.’ They are so young, yet they did such a terriblething,” said Becker, a retired state worker.
She and her husband were traveling home from a birthday partywhen a rock fell on their car’s steering column, destroying it.Becker said she has been haunted by investigators’ statements thatthey escaped serious injury or death by several hundredths of asecond.
“I had breast cancer three years ago, and I said, ‘I’ll getover this,’ and I did. This story, I can’t get over,” she said.“You can fight against a disease, but something like this juststays with you.”