Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trial & Courtroom Charges

After an investigation the state prosecutor maintained Anneliese's death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all 4 defendants (Pastor Ernst Alt and Father Arnold Renz as well as the parents - with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor.

The trial started on March 30, 1978, in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, the doctors claimed the woman was not possessed. Although Dr.Richard Roth who was asked for medical help by Father Alt. allegedly said after the exorcism he witnessed on May 30, 1976 that "there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese."

The priests were defended by church-paid lawyers, whereas the parents were defended by one of Germany's most well-known lawyers, Erich Schmidt-Leichner, a lawyer who had defended numerous persons in Nazi war crimes trials. Schmidt-Leichner claimed that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs.

The defense played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be "demon arguing", as proof that Anneliese was indeed possessed. Both priests presented their deeply held conviction that she was possessed, and that she was finally freed by exorcism just before she died.

Ultimately, the accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to a 6 months suspended sentence and 3 years probation. It was a far lighter sentence than anticipated by most people. Yet, it was more than demanded by the prosecution, which had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished.

During the trial, the major lingering issues were related to the church itself. A not-guilty verdict could be seen as opening the gate to more exorcism attempts - and possibly unfortunate outcomes. But for the most part, experienced observers believed the effect would be the opposite - that merely bringing charges of negligent homicide against priests and parents would provoke changes and more caution.

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