The trial of a suspect in the death of Tuğçe Albayrak, a German national of Turkish origin who has been hailed as a heroine, started on Friday. Albayrak died in November 2014 after she fell to the ground and lapsed into a coma during a confrontation with men who were harassıng two German women at a restaurant.
At the first hearing in his trial in a juvenile district court in Darmstadt, Germany, Sanel Masovic, 18, acknowledged that he had slapped Albayrak, 22, during the confrontation in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant. Security camera footage that emerged earlier had shown men surrounding the Turkish womanö though it was not clear who hit her.
The defendant, who faces charges of bodily harm resulting in death, expressed his regrets: "I am sorry for what I did. I can't imagine the pain and suffering her family has. I never thought she would die."
Masovic, a German citizen of Serbian origin, has four previous convictions, two for assault. His lawyers had earlier sought his release pending trial. The current charge he faces carries a sentence of up to 10 years, but if charged with manslaughter or homicide, he could be be incarcerated for longer. German legal experts have said he may get away with five years in prison if the court decides to reduce his sentence.
Albayrak was at a restaurant in the German city of Offenbach when she saw Masovic and two friends harassing two German women. While other patrons were intimidated by the harassers, Albayrak intervened. As she left the restaurant she ran into three men and a quarrel broke out. She fell into a coma after hitting her head on the ground. Her family approved taking her off life support on her 23rd birthday. Masovic was captured after the incident.
The young woman was hailed for her courage in standing up to the harassment of others. Hundreds of people attended her funeral, and German President Joachim Gauck described her as a role model when he announced plans to award her a posthumous Federal Order of Merit, the country's highest civilian distinction.
A group gathered outside the courthouse held a vigil for Albayrak and demanded justice as the trial was underway.
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