A failed Iraqi asylum seeker has been handed life in prison for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old German girl.
Ali Bashar, 22, had admitted in court in Wiesbaden that he strangled Susanna Feldman on 23 May 2018, but claimed he did not know how it happened.
Her body was found two weeks later, after he had returned to northern Iraq.
The killing prompted outrage in Germany and led Chancellor Angela Merkel to call for faster deportation of failed asylum seekers in the country.
Bashar was sentenced on Wednesday amid tight security at the court in Wiesbaden, the city where the murder took place.
As his crime was deemed by the judge to be of exceptional severity, he is unlikely to be granted parole after 15 years.
Susanna’s mother, Diana, said that “part of my future and my heart disappeared” when her daughter died.
“I have already received life imprisonment, although I am not guilty. I will never get a chance for a pardon,” she wrote in a six-page letter to Bashar ahead of the verdict, German newspaper Bild reported (in German).
Prosecutors said Bashar had raped Susanna Feldman in a wooded area near a railway line, then strangled her from behind when she threatened to go to police. He then used the schoolgirl’s phone to send messages that she had decided to travel to Paris, they said.
What the defendant said
Bashar denied raping Susanna and claimed that they had consensual sex.
During the trial, he described through an interpreter how his family had fled Iraq in 2015.
He then talked about his time in Germany, and how – despite consuming alcohol from the age of 12 – it was there that he was first introduced to harder drugs.
He claimed that he had met Susanna through a mutual acquaintance three months before the attack and had spent time with her, listening to music and walking with her, hand in hand. He had not known her age, he said.
Speaking of the incident, Ali Bashar told the court: “Everything went black before my eyes, then it all happened. I don’t know how it could have happened.”
How Bashar was caught
On 6 June 2018, Susanna Feldman’s body was found in a shallow grave covered with leaves, twigs and soil after police were given information from a 13-year-old Afghan boy from Bashar’s asylum shelter.
By the time she had been found, Bashar and his family had travelled to the Kurdish city of Irbil in northern Iraq where he was then detained by local forces.
As Iraq and Germany do not have an extradition treaty, a high-profile mission began involving the head of German federal police, Dieter Romann, who travelled to Irbil with anti-terror police to bring him back.
A highly charged inquiry littered with mistakes
By Damien McGuinness, BBC News Berlin
This murder was both high-profile and controversial. Police are accused of numerous failings, including not fully investigating a previous allegation of the rape of an 11-year-old girl.
Susanna’s mother says the police did nothing for five days after she reported her daughter was missing. By the time the girl’s body was found two weeks after the murder, Ali Bashar had already fled the country.
The far-right AfD has used the case to justify its anti-migrant stance. But the murder has also increased pressure on the German government to deal more efficiently with failed asylum seekers.
Bashar’s application for asylum had been rejected and he had appealed against the decision, which meant he was legally allowed to stay in Germany while the process went on.
But officials are being criticised from not processing the case fast enough, given the allegations against him of theft and bodily harm.
Mrs Merkel said during a TV interview at the time of Bashar’s arrest that the case showed how important it was for people with no residency status to be put before the courts so that “they can quickly get sent home again”.
AfD politicians were accused of seizing on the case for political ends. Marches and vigils were held against illegal immigration, three years after a wave of migrants and refugees arrived in Germany.
Several high-profile crimes involving asylum seekers have sparked public anger in Germany. The killing of a 15-year-old German girl in the south west of Germany by her ex-boyfriend was also seized upon by far-right groups.
There were clashes last August after a man was fatally stabbed in the eastern city of Chemnitz. An Iraqi and a Syrian were arrested at the time.