Father of German school shooter on trial for manslaughter

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The father of a teenager who shot dead 15 people before killing himself in a rampage at his old school in Germany expressed regret at the start of his trial for manslaughter Thursday.

Joerg Kretschmer, a 51-year-old businessman, is also accused of violating gun laws because his son Tim, 17, was able to take his 9mm Beretta pistol in March 2009 and use it in his killing spree in the southern town of Winnenden.

Fearing a break-in, Joerg Kretschmer kept his gun by the bedside, rather than locking it away, a mistake prosecutors say cost the lives of nine of Tim's fellow students, three teachers and three others.

In a surprise development, the court in Stuttgart accepted a prosecution bid to try Kretschmer for grievous bodily harm and manslaughter, in addition to the initial gun charges.

Another court had earlier ruled that he could not stand trial for these more serious crimes. If convicted, the new charges could lead to his spending several years behind bars.

In a statement read out by his lawyer, Kretschmer said he "often asked himself how this could have happened" and that he considered as a "huge human failing" the fact he had not recognised how disturbed his son was.

He showed little emotion as the trial opened under heavy security. But in his statement he portrayed himself as a broken and suicidal man under psychological treatment.

The court must now decide to what extent the father was responsible for his son's crimes.

His defence lawyer argued he should walked free as he had been punished enough by the loss of his son.

It was the worst school shooting in Germany since April 2002, when 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser, a disgruntled student from Erfurt in eastern Germany who had been expelled, killed 16 people and then himself.

The court will hear from 40 witnesses over 27 days.

Forty-one co-plaintiffs, represented by 19 lawyers, are also expected to participate in the case. A verdict is expected in January.

The bloodbath sparked calls for tighter gun control and a ban on violent video games such as "Counterstrike", which the teen killer was known to have played.

In the wake of the disaster, the German government introduced an amnesty on illegally held weapons and more than 200,000 guns were handed in. But as the trial opened, a leader of the Green party said not enough had been done.

"Even after Winnenden and despite demands from all parties, the necessary actions were not taken," Cem Ozdemir, co-chairman of the Greens, told the Frankfurter Rundschau daily.

A lawyer for the co-plaintiffs said his clients were looking for the father to offer an unambiguous admission of his guilt.

"They want a clear apology, a clear acknowledgement of his mistake," Jens Rabe told Stern magazine's online edition.

And relatives of those killed said the trial was not about settling scores but about discovering how much Tim's parents knew about their son's psychological problems.

"It is not about revenge," said Hardy Schober, who lost his 15-year-old daughter in the bloodbath.

"The truth must come to light, no matter how painful it is," he told the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Gisela Mayer, the mother of one of the victims, told rolling news channel N24: "I want to see who he is, because I think he is also a father and he wanted to bring up a son, not a mass murderer."

© 2010 AFP

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