Turkish-born Serkan A., was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Greek teenager Spyridon L., who was 17 at the time of the crime, got eight-and-a-half years. The sentences were so high because the court rated the assault as attempted murder rather than grievous bodily harm.
Judge Reinhold Baier at the Munich district court said they had acted "brutally and without mercy" in beating up pensioner Hubertus N., who had angered them by asking them not to smoke in the Munich subway train, where smoking is forbidden.
Their assault was caught on surveillance cameras and played on German TV news channels, prompting Hesse state governor Roland Koch to call for a crackdown on "criminal young foreigners" in what political rivals said was an attempt to boost his flagging campaign for re-election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, like Koch a Christian Democrat, backed his tough line, while immigrant groups warned that the focus on foreign criminals reflected latent xenophobia at the heart of German society.
The two attackers had confessed to having caused life-threatening injuries to the pensioner by punching him and kicking him in the head. They apologized to him during the trial but he rejected the apology as insincere. "They played football with my head," he said. He suffered serious head injuries and bleeding in his brain, but has made a recovery.
The sentences were in line with what the state prosecution had demanded.
Both defendants are due to be deported to their respective countries of origin once they have served part of their sentences. They looked shocked by the severity of the punishment. Serkan kept shaking his head and looked over at his mother, who was crying, and at his girlfriend who had their baby on her lap.
Their lawyers said they would appeal against the sentences which they said were designed to set an example and assure the public that the Munich subway was safe.
The German of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, said in a statement: "The state has rightly given a tough response with this verdict. The brutal assault by these two young men alarmed our society and led to a broad debate about how to deal with youth crime."
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