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Kay Defendant in Arson Murder of Five Turks Recants Confession

March 21, 1995

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) _ The only defendant to confess to the arson murder of five Turks recanted Tuesday, saying he had nothing to do with Germany’s deadliest right-wing attack.

The statement by 25-year-old Markus Gartman threw the already shaky case into confusion. The yearlong trial has been disrupted by contradictory testimony and disclosures that a government spy had run a right-wing social club where three of the four defendants took karate lessons.

Two Turkish women and three little girls died in the May 1993 arson attack on a house in Solingen in western Germany. The killings prompted Turks to riot in several German cities and caused the government to enact tougher measures against right-wing violence.

Gartman confessed to the crime in 1993 and implicated three other defendants. He said Tuesday that he confessed because his court-appointed attorney, Sigmund Benecken, implied there was no way he would escape prison and promised him a light sentence.

``My confession wasn’t true,″ Gartman said. ``I got myself into a mess that I couldn’t get out of.″

``A bomb has just fallen in the courtroom,″ said Judge Wolfgang Steffen in the North Rhine-Westfalia state court.

Benecken immediately resigned from the case. Steffen said he found it hard to believe the claim by Gartman, who was to testify again next week.

Gartman’s confession is important because physical evidence linking the defendants to the crime is lacking.

Felix Koehnen, 17, and Christian Buchholz, 21, both say they had nothing to do with the murders. The fourth suspect, 18-year-old Christian Riher, first blamed two skinhead men, then blamed the other three defendants, and most recently claimed he acted alone.

Prosecutors say Koehnen, Buchholz and Gartman, after a night of drinking and a fight with two Yugoslav men, met up with Koehnen _ who lives across the street from the victims _ and decided to set fire to the Turkish families’ house.

They sprayed lighter fluid on the entrance to the house then set newspapers on fire, prosecutors have said.

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