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German Court Convicts Soccer Fans

November 9, 1999

ESSEN, Germany (AP) _ A German court convicted four soccer fans today in the near-fatal beating of a French police officer at last year’s World Cup and handed down sentences ranging from 3 1/2 to 10 years in prison.

Andre Zawacki, 28, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years. Prosecutors accused him of causing the most serious injuries to the French officer, Daniel Nivel, by smashing his head with a metal rod.

Nivel, 44, was in court today along with his wife, Lorette, and one of their two sons.

The beating, which lasted only a minute, left Nivel blind in one eye, speech-impaired and with difficulties concentrating, according to his lawyer, Harald Wostry.

Hundreds of German soccer fans were in Lens, France, on June 21 for the sold-out match between Germany and Yugoslavia. Despite heavy police security, the situation became chaotic after the game ended in a 2-2 draw. As French officers sought to push back the hooligans, one group slipped into a side street where Nivel was posted with two other police.

``Get the cops,″ they shouted, according to the indictment. The other officers fled, and the group surrounded Nivel.

The next day, a photo of Nivel lying unconscious in a pool of blood hit newspapers around the world, shocking billions of fans following soccer’s premier event and casting a pall over the rest of the games.

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

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

Prosecutors had presented testimony from witnesses, mostly other soccer fans, and photographs taken during the attack by a 17-year-old Austrian, who has since entered a witness protection program.

Defense attorney sought to raise doubts about whether the snapshots showed what prosecutors said they did, and had stressed contradictions in witness testimony.

Rauch was the only one of the four who denied involvement in the attack. The other three admitted participating in the beating, but not with the severity the prosecution alleged. They apologized to Nivel’s family during the trial.

Another German suspect, 28-year-old Markus Warnecke, was arrested in France and faces trial there.

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