Benedikt Toth is serving a life sentence for the murder of his aunt Charlotte Böhringer.
Despite there being no proof – only repeatedly-refuted ‚clues‘ or ‚evidence‘ – of his having committed the crime.
Despite there being proof that Benedict had no motive for having perpetuated the murder – and evidence that he was incapable of having done such.
Despite DNA and other proof pointing to other suspects, each with strong reasons for having committed or commissioned the crime.
Notwithstanding a huge outcry by many of Germany’s leading judges, professors of jurisprudence, journalists and filmmakers, who have produced a large and growing number of books, articles and films detailing the errors of investigation and evaluation upon which the verdict was based.
The facts of the case:
Charlotte Böhringer was murdered on May 15,2006. She was a millionaire, whose wealth came from the parking garage in downtown Munich that she had inherited from her husband.
Three days later, Benedikt Toth, her nephew, was arrested for the crime. On August 12, 2008, in one of the longest and most controversial trials in German jurisprudence, Benedikt was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is serving his sentence at a maximum security facility in Straubing, Bavaria.
Both the trial and the verdict were – and very still very much are – the subjects of intensive criticism. The chief points:
A rush to accuse and arrest: rather than diligently and thoroughly investigating all major suspects – notably Charlotte’s lovers, business partners, employees (present and former) – the police and district attorneys immediately seized upon Benedikt. This caused them to cursorily check – at most – the other suspects.
A failure to assemble and evaluate evidence: this lack of diligence and thoroughness forced Benedikt’s defense to assemble and appraise evidence. Much of this evidence exonerated Benedikt – including the fact that the killing was probably performed by a right-hander (Benedikt is left-handed) and, notably, the discovery of DNA linking the crime to another murder, the latter perpetuated in Bavaria a quarter of a century previously.
A refusal to fairly evaluate the evidence: the judge presiding over the caste cavalierly dismissed any facts pointing to the involvement of people other than Benedikt in it – even though this evidence indicated Charlotte’s having been involved with and visited by people with strong motives to wish her unwell prior to her murder.
Where matters now stand:
Despite the heroic efforts of his lawyers, the Munich-based Peter Witting and Carolin Arnemann, over the last nine years, Benedikt is down to his absolute last legal chance. His lawyers submitted in July a motion to Germany’s supreme court – Verfassungsgericht. If the court agrees to consider the motion and if it rules in Benedikt’s favor – two very big “ifs” – he will get a new trial.
A number of members of Bavaria’s parliament have expressed their indignation at the blatant biases shown by the state’s courts. The MPs are now considering convening a commission to investigate the matter.
On November 14, 2015, German TV screened a major documentary on Benedikt and other cases of legal injustice. This was the second of its kind, and it will be followed in spring 2016 by another.
What legal experts have to say about the case
“Toth should be immediately released from jail, because his guilt was never proven.“
Thomas Darnstädt, one of Germany’s leading reporters on legal matters (der Spiegel).
“The verdict is a work of fantasy. It is hard to believe that it was formulated by a judge.”
Ermin Briessmann († 2010), Associate Justice at Bavaria’s Supreme Court and Presiding Justice at Bavaria’s Superior State Court.
“Anyone with an open mind who reads the motion setting forth the reasons to reopen the case will find important reasons for doing such. These facts shake the very foundations of the verdict, which represents in any case a scandal. This verdict constitutes very probably an erroneous decision, one that has put an innocent person behind bars – and one that keeps him there.”
Dr. HOLM PUTZKE, LL.M., Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Passau, and one of Germany’s leading experts on jurisprudence