A Royal Pain Prince Ernst August's Case Heads to Court -- Again
In 2004, Prince Ernst August of Hanover was convicted of brutally beating up a nightclub owner with a knuckle duster. Now, a German court is examining whether the case should be retried. At stake is a lot of money and the prince's reputation.
The tale began on a mild January evening on the Kenyan island of Lamu eight years ago. Belying the bucolic beachfront setting, Prince Ernst August -- the notorious royal from the German House of Hanover -- became involved in a punch-up with a German hotelier named Josef Brunlehner. That much is clear. But just who started it and what exactly happened are questions that haunt the prince and his wife Princess Caroline of Hanover to this day.
The prince insists that he merely slapped the hotel manager in the face a couple of times. The hotelier, for his part, maintains that Prince Ernst August was trying to do serious damage. He says the prince was wearing brass knuckles and that he had help from a Kenyan accomplice. It was this version of the story that resulted in the prince's 2004 conviction of aggravated assault.
On Monday, though, the district court in the northern German town of Hildesheim will begin hearing arguments to determine whether the prince should be allowed to present new evidence in the case. The result could be an entirely new trial revisiting the unpleasant incident from beginning to end. At stake is a bundle of money, and the prince's sullied international reputation.
The prince, the great-grandson of the German Emperor Wilhelm II, is attempting to reduce his earlier conviction to a lesser charge. According to court spokesman Jan-Michael Seidel, Ernst August is hoping that new witness testimony will result in minor convictions for insulting the hotelier -- punishable in Germany -- and attempted bodily harm.
To do so, the prince wants the court to hear behind-closed-doors testimony from five Kenyans who are to back up his version of the story. A sixth witness, Princess Caroline of Hanover, is also set to testify, but just how that testimony will be delivered has yet to be determined. "By publicizing the exact timing of her appearance before the court, the court has jeopardized her safety," Hans Wolfgang Euler, the family's lawyer, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Euler is concerned that public and media interest in the trial could result in huge crowds at the courthouse. Euler has proposed that the princess be allowed to give testimony in the German consulate in Monaco or in the Monaco Embassy in Berlin, but the court has yet to make a ruling. "Still, she remains willing to testify," Euler said.
'You German Pig -- You Gay Pig'
The Hildesheim court is only the most recent in a series of courts to have addressed the case. The 2004 conviction was handed down by the district court in Hanover, which was convinced that Ernst August and around 10 others pounced on Brunlehner. The prince allegedly ordered the Kenyans to grab hold of the victim while he pummeled his hapless victim.
"In or on his hand, the defendant had a kind of brass knuckles, which he specifically used in the beating," the verdict states. It said Brunlehner had suffered internal injuries and rib fractures and had brought up blood. The court went on to say that the beating had been "so brutal" that the 56-year-old had had "been afraid for his life."
According to the judge, Brunlehner did not once retaliate and fled at the first chance. Ernst August, the court's judgement said, called after him: "You German pig -- you gay pig -- you pimp. I will set a Mafia gang on you, who will cut you into pieces."
The court fined the prince 445,000 ($693,000). However, Prince August is concerned less about the fine than about his resulting criminal record and the damage to his reputation, according to his lawyer. "It's important for him to prove that he is not a person who attacks others with a knuckle duster and injures them," Euler said. "My client has never possessed a knuckle duster or ever had one in his hands."
According to the prince, he and his wife Princess Caroline spent the evening of the incident, Jan. 14, 2000, in the bar of the beachfront Peponi Hotel with the hotel owners. The group repeatedly spoke about the noise and annoying lasers emanating from Brunlehner's beach disco, located on Manda Island some 800 meters across the water.
A Slap Across the Face: 'One for the Music, one for the Light'
At around 11 p.m., the aristocratic couple moved to the bar on the terrace and had a chat there; the five Kenyans set to testify in the Hildesheim court can vouch for that. They are so-called Beach Boys, young men who take tourists by boat to Lamu and wait for clients at the hotel.
One of the Beach Boys, so the prince's story goes, spotted Brunlehner approaching by boat and pointed him out to the prince. Ernst August then approached Brunlehner, introduced himself and slapped him across the face two times -- left and right -- saying: "One for the music, one for the light."
Brunlehner, who stood on a staircase one step below the prince, then allegedly tilted backwards and slumped onto the beach. After that Brunlehner got back up, ran back to his boat and headed back to Manda Island.
How did Brunlehner suffer the Serious Injuries?
According to papers filed by the prince's lawyer, Ernst August did not have a knuckle duster or any other object in his hand when he slapped the victim. On "no account" was there any "further physical contact," the papers claim. Furthermore, the documents say, the prince did not sit on Brunlehner nor did he pummel Brunlehner's body with blows. The nightclub owner seemed "completely unhurt" when his boat pulled away, the papers say.
But how then did Brunlehner come to suffer serious stomach and collar- and breast-bone injuries, which were diagnosed and photographed in a Mombassa hospital after the attack? How did Hans Dieter Tröger, director of the Legal Medical Institute at the Medical University of Hanover, come to conclude in a four-page report that Brunlehner's injuries stemmed from a "semi-sharp tool"? Brunlehner's lawyer Alexander Spreitzer has refused to comment on the case.
Should the Hildesheim court determine that the new witnesses possess valuable testimony bearing on the case, a new trial could be the result. And Prince Ernst August has said he would be willing, for the first time, to take the stand.
His testimony, however, would likely be different than that offered up by his defense team in the first run through. In the Hanover trial, the prince's then defense attorney Jochen Heidemeier claimed, allegedly speaking on behalf of the prince, that Ernst August had been "outraged" and that he had "drunk a considerable amount." The prince, Heidemeier said, slapped Brunlehner twice. But he went on to say that he could not rule out "that a companion handed him an object first." Furthermore, he said that the prince could not rule out that he injured Brunlehner.
"The story told by the previous defense attorney allegedly on behalf of my client was not one my client was familiar with. According to his statement, the story was not truthful and was in no way authorized," the prince's layer Euler told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "My client, he says, approached Mr. Brunlehner alone, was not drunk and had no knuckle duster in his hand."
Prince Ernst August von Hanover is suing his former defense attorney Heidemeier for 250,000 ($389,000). The first hearings in the civil suit will be held at the Hanover district court in June.