BERLIN – A German court begin hearing the case Tuesday against two far-right extremists accused of killing a regional politician whose execution-style slaying shocked the country last year.
Walter Luebcke, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who led the regional administration in the Kassel area of central Germany, was shot on his porch on June 1, 2019, and died later that night.
Stephan Ernst, a 46-year-old with previous convictions for violent anti-migrant crimes, is accused of murder, attempted murder, serious bodily harm and firearms offenses.
A second man, identified only as Markus H. because of privacy rules, is charged with being an accessory to murder and breaking firearms laws.
Lines formed late Monday outside the Frankfurt regional court where the trial is taking place amid heightened security precautions. Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic mean only a small number of reporters and members of the public will be able to witness the trial.
Prosecutors say Ernst and Markus H. both attended an October 2015 town hall event where Luebcke defended the German government’s decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country. A video of Luebcke’s remarks was widely shared in far-right circles, drawing numerous threats.
Federal prosecutor Dieter Killmer said Ernst was motivated by “racism and xenophobia.”
Both suspects sought "an ethnically and culturally homogenous society," said Killmer.
In January 2016, Ernst allegedly stabbed an Iraqi asylum-seeker in the back, injuring the victim’s spine and severing two nerves. Police only linked him to the racially-motivated stabbing after finding the knife used in his possession when he was arrested for Luebcke’s slaying last June.
Authorities discovered numerous illegal firearms that Ernst had stored in various locations, including three revolvers, two pistols, two rifles and a submachine gun, as well as 1,400 bullets.
Ernst initially told investigators he carried out the killing alone, but later retracted this claim.
During the trial, Luebcke's wife and two sons will be present as co-plaintiffs, as permitted by German law.
“I am convinced that it was a cold-blooded, insidious, cowardly murder with vicious motives," Holger Matt, a lawyer for the Luebcke family, told reporters outside the court.
Ernst's attorney, Frank Hannig, urged people not to rush to judgment.
“Everyone in this country ... has the right to a fair and just trial,” he said following the proceedings.
The German government vowed to crack down on far-right extremism following the Luebcke killing and other attacks last year, warning that it poses a significant security threat in the country.
The trial is scheduled to last until at least October.
Christoph Noelting in Frankfurt contributed to this report.