25 December 2010

Report from Day 5

Day 5 - 17 December 2010

The day stars with the judge observing that still no representative of the Youth Authority or the court aid for minors are present. According to German law, when minors are on trial, these have to be present in order to ensure correct proceedings. But since the personal details of the accused aren't being discussed yet, the judge decides to proceed. 

Then there is more debate about whether the press should be allowed to make drawings of the accused, and whether the accused can be identified from the drawings. The press wins, drawings are allowed.

Finally, the examination of Dr. Helmke from the Hamburg University Hospital (UKE) on determining a person's age continues. He states that the certainty for determining a person's age by examining the carpal bones is 95%. Depending on the method applied, he estimates that the youngest accused (who claims to be 13) is at least 14, or 19 plus or minus 4 years.

A lot of details follow about the growth of bones and the different ways of analysing them and why the  Dutch expert originally estimated a younger age. In cross examination it turns out that the statement of “95% certainty” has to be qualified somewhat. The number is based on a study from the late 1930s, done with North American children from a white middle class background between the age of 0 and 19. Nutrition or malnutrition, illnesses, traumatic experiences, ethnicity can all skew the results in either direction. 

Next up is Dr Fuhrmann again, also from the University Hospital, who already gave evidence on day 3. He talks of ways to determine someone's age by their teeth and the collar bone. The tooth method is focussed on the wisdom teeth. According to the decay of the wisdom teeth, he estimates the age to be 23. But socio-economic factors can influence the results.

During the last hour, one of the defendants repeatedly takes his headphones off and massages his ears. I'm thinking: he can't stand it any more. Then the youngest accused complains about headaches and it looks as if he's wiping tears from his face. Court takes a short break.

Fuhrmann is head of the quality control board in his department. Counsel Jung wants to know what quality control means – does it mean that everyone reaches the same results? Yes, when every medical expert starts with the same data, there shouldn't be any discrepancies. Jung quotes from a study that was presented at Fuhrmann's own conference two years ago, which found that the age development among Canadian First Nation people differed from any other ethnic group. Furhmann says he hasn't actually read the study and can't comment. Jung continues to present findings that show a wide range of estimates for the same person, ranging from 14 to 25. Again, Fuhrman doesn't know the details and can't comment.

Court closes. The cross examination of Dr Helmke will continue on 5th January.