A Thin Case Ex-RAF Terrorist to Stand Trial for 1977 Murder

The German federal prosecutor's office has indicted former RAF terrorist Verena Becker for the murder of Attorney General Siegfried Buback in 1977. The crime, which shocked Germany at the time, has never been fully cleared up. But the evidence against Becker is relatively thin.

DPA

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Verena Becker's house is located behind an Art Nouveau villa on a cobblestone street lined with street lamps from the turn of the 20th century. A practitioner of alternative medicine, Becker was once a member of the Red Army Faction (RAF), a far-left group that spread fear and terror throughout Germany more than 30 years ago. She has been living in a bungalow in the garden of the villa, which is owned by her sister, in Berlin's upmarket Zehlendorf neighborhood for many years.

But she cannot escape her past, even in this relatively hidden spot. Beginning this fall, the former terrorist will probably have to leave her comfortable, idyllic surroundings twice a week to travel to Stuttgart, where she will stand trial. The higher regional court in Stuttgart is expected to send the indictment, presented by the federal prosecutor's office, to Becker's attorney in Berlin this week.

There is no statute of limitations on murder. Federal prosecutors accuse Becker, a 57-year-old early retiree who lives on welfare, of being an accomplice in the assassination of Attorney General Siegfried Buback, who was killed along with his driver Wolfgang Göbel and the head of the chauffeur service, Georg Wurster, in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe in the spring of 1977.

Unanswered Questions

More than 30 years after the murder, prosecutors are determined to find out who was responsible for one of the RAF's most spectacular attacks. Who fired the deadly shots into Buback's car from a motorcycle, who was driving the motorcycle and who was driving the waiting getaway car? These questions have remained unanswered, partly because most of the former RAF members have remained persistently silent on the matter to this day.

But does the federal prosecutor's office have enough evidence to convict Becker of being an accomplice in the murder?

The former terrorist was arrested last summer after a search of her house, in which investigators confiscated suspicious notes and a computer. In December, however, Germany's Federal Court of Justice accepted an objection which Becker, who is chronically ill, had filed against the arrest. The court argued that there was too little evidence to prove that she had been an accomplice.

The federal prosecutors have been under a great deal of pressure since then. They cannot be certain that the judges on the Sixth Criminal Court in Stuttgart, which hears criminal cases involving national security, will support them, as was commonly the case during the years of RAF terror. The Stuttgart judges first want to give Becker's attorney the opportunity to state his case, and only then will they decide whether to allow the charges of being an accessory to murder, which could result in a life sentence. They could also -- in keeping with the decision by the Federal Court of Justice -- only allow prosecutors to charge Becker with aiding and abetting, which could involve a significantly smaller penalty.

Circumstantial Evidence

Given the lack of direct evidence, federal public prosecutor Walter Hemberger, who is in charge of the investigation, has collected circumstantial evidence -- including some items that the defendant contributed herself. For instance, on the 31st anniversary of the Buback assassination, Becker wrote, in one of the notes that were later found by investigators: "No, I don't know how I can pray for Mr. Buback. I have no real feeling of guilt and regret. Of course, I wouldn't do it again today, but isn't it pathetic to think and feel this way?!"

In another of Becker's notes, which also raises red flags for Hemberger, she writes: "What do I want to achieve? To clear S. (and others). To say what really happened."

Is "S." a reference to her former accomplice, Stefan Wisniewski, whom the federal prosecutors are also investigating in relation to the Buback case? Even during 117 days of pretrial detention last year, Becker did not make any statements. In a recorded telephone conversation with Brigitte Mohnhaupt, a former leader of the RAF, Becker said that she did not believe "that they can do anything, except to say: Well, there are the letters claiming responsibility…"

According to DNA analysis performed by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Becker sealed the three envelopes that contained the letters claiming responsibility for the murders of Buback and the others. The envelopes are the only new pieces of evidence of Becker's involvement in the Buback murder, despite the great lengths taken by forensic experts to come up with evidence against Becker. For example, they also tried to find traces of Becker's DNA on the trigger of the murder weapon, a Heckler & Koch semi-automatic rifle, but were unsuccessful.

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