German child murderer awarded damages for police threat

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A German court on Thursday awarded more than 3,000 euros ($4,265) in damages to a child murderer over a threat by police to inflict "unimaginable pain" if he did not reveal his victim's whereabouts.

The regional court in the state of Hesse found that the "human dignity" of Magnus Gaefgen, had been violated during questioning in 2002 over the disappearance of a banker's 11-year-old son.

The police believed at the time that the abducted child, Jakob von Metzler, could still be alive after his parents paid a one-million-euro ransom to Gaefgen.

But the court found that the two officers questioning him had not exhausted their other options to garner information before threatening him with violence.

It emerged later that the boy, whose family owns one of Germany's oldest private banks, was already dead at the time of the interrogation. Gaefgen was convicted in 2003 of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

In awarding Gaefgen 3,000 euros plus interest, presiding judge Christoph Hefter said the killer had been the victim of "serious rights violations" that could not be rectified under German law without the payment of damages.

Gaefgen, 36, had demanded 10,000 euros for pain and suffering as well as other damages, saying he had been threatened with "torture".

The officers who questioned him were convicted in 2004 and fined but their sentences were suspended.

The European Court of Human Rights had last year ruled that Gaefgen had been subjected to "inhumane treatment".

The GdP police union said Thursday's ruling was "emotionally very difficult to endure" and argued that officers must be able to use tough interrogation methods in situations in which lives are believed to be at stake.

"Neither torture nor even the threat of torture are instruments at the disposal of a police force operating under the rule of law," union chief Bernhard Witthaut said in a statement.

"But family members, as well as all citizens, have a right to expect that the police will try to question an alleged murder to such an extent that the potential victim can at least be found quickly, if not rescued."

During his trial, Gaefgen confessed that he had abducted Jakob, whose family controls the Metzler private bank in Frankfurt, on September 27, 2002, as the boy made his way home from school.

Gaefgen, who was known to the Metzler family, described how he lured the boy to his flat and then bound his mouth and nose with adhesive bandages.

When the boy stopped moving after Gaefgen pushed on his face with his hands, he immersed the child in water in a bathtub to ensure that he was dead.

The Metzlers paid the ransom demanded by Gaefgen, but their son's body was recovered from a pond near Frankfurt four days after he disappeared. Most of the money was later found at Gaefgen's home.

© 2011 AFP

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