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Soccer Fans Convicted in Beating

November 9, 1999

ESSEN, Germany (AP) _ Saying they ``behaved like monsters,″ a court Tuesday convicted and sentenced four soccer hooligans to up to 10 years in prison for the near-fatal beating of a French policeman at last year’s World Cup.

The attack 16 months ago left officer Daniel Nivel in a coma for six weeks and cast a pall over soccer’s premier event.

Andre Zawacki, 28, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors accused him of inflicting the most serious injuries on Nivel by beating him on the head with a metal rod in the attack in Lens, France, where the German team was playing Yugoslavia.

Tobias Reifschlaeger, 25, Frank Renger, 31, and Christopher Rauch, 24, were convicted of causing serious bodily harm and given sentences of six, five and 3 1/2 years, respectively.

A gaunt-looking Nivel, 44, showed no reaction to the verdict as he sat in the courtroom with his wife, Lorette, and one of their two sons.

``It will take time,″ Mrs. Nivel said, fighting back tears. ``I think that only later will he react.″

``I showed him the numbers,″ she said. ``He read them.″

She said she was relieved that the defendants had been convicted and sentenced. ``Longer sentences wouldn’t change anything.″

The beating left Nivel blind in one eye, speech-impaired and with difficulties concentrating, said his lawyer, Harald Wostry.

``Their appearance and behavior was a shock for every civilized human being,″ presiding Judge Rudolf Esders said, staring at the defendants.

``The accused are not monsters. They are human beings who behaved like monsters,″ he said.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 14 years for Zawacki and six to eight years for the others. Defense attorneys requested leniency because of their inebriated state.

Rauch denied he was involved in the June 21, 1998, attack, while the other three admitted participating, but not with the severity alleged by prosecutors. They also apologized to Nivel’s family during the trial.

Esders said Zawacki, a machine-tool worker, acted with ``deadly intent″ in hitting Nivel with a 1 1/2-pound metal bar so hard that it broke.

In handing down lesser sentences for the others, he said the court was convinced that Reifschlaeger and Renger had kicked the Nivel in the body, but not in the head as alleged.

Esders said that, while he believed Rauch did not directly take part, he was present and deserved punishment.

``All the defendants are responsible for the fact that Nivel was beaten and kicked to the ground,″ Esders said.

Prosecutors presented testimony from witnesses and photographs, taken by a 17-year-old Austrian who has since entered a witness protection program.

Hundreds of rowdy Germans were in Lens for the sold-out match. Despite heavy security, chaos erupted after the game ended in a 2-2 draw. As French officers sought to push back the crowds, one group slipped into a side street where Nivel was posted.

The next day, a photo of Nivel lying unconscious in a pool of blood hit newspapers around the world. Then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl called it a ``disgrace for Germany.″

Another German, Markus Warnecke, was arrested in France and faces trial there.

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