MUNICH -- A high-profile murder trial involving alleged German neo-Nazis has been put on hold after defense lawyers accused the presiding judge of bias.
Judge Manfred Goetzl said Monday that he would rule on defense motions that he should recuse himself by May 14.
Main defendant Beate Zschaepe is accused of murder for alleged complicity in the killing of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007. If convicted, she faces life imprisonment.
Prosecutors say Zschaepe was part of a far-right gang that also carried out two bombings and 15 bank robberies. The other two core members of the self-styled National Socialist Underground are said to have died in an apparent murder-suicide in November 2011.
Four other men are on trial accused of helping the group. The five defendants appeared in public Monday for the first time since their arrest more than a year ago.
Police erected security barriers in anticipation of possible protests by far-right extremist groups, while hundreds of reporters queued outside the Munich courthouse in the hope of gaining one of the few available seats in the packed courtroom for the start of a trial scheduled to last for more than a year.
Zschaepe is accused of involvement in at least two bombings and 15 bank robberies carried out by her accomplices Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt, who died in an apparent murder-suicide in November 2011. The judges allowed Zschaepe's face to be filmed as she entered the court in a dark suit, her arms folded, before turning her back to the cameras.
Four male defendants are accused of assisting the self-styled National Socialist Underground in various ways:
-- Ralf Wohlleben, 38, and Carsten Schultze, 33, are accused of being accessories to murder in the killing of the nine men. Prosecutors allege that they supplied the trio with the weapons and silencers used in the killings.
-- Andre Eminger, 33, is accused of being an accessory in two of the bank robberies and in a 2001 bombing in Cologne's old town. He is also accused of two counts of supporting a terrorist organization.
-- Holger Gerlach, 39, is accused of three counts of supporting a terrorist organization.
Like Zschaepe, the co-defendants were known to German authorities before the existence of the self-styled National Socialist Underground came to light. Many in Germany have asked how the country's well-funded security services, with their network of informants in the far-right scene, could have overlooked the group's existence for so long. For years, police suspected the immigrant victims of being involved with foreign gangs linked to gambling and drugs.
Families of those killed and survivors of the bomb attacks in particular have said they are hoping not just for justice, but answers to questions such as how the group chose its victims, none of whom were high-profile targets.
One of Zschaepe's three lawyers has claimed that his client faces "execution by media."
Wolfgang Stahl told public broadcaster SWR last week that Zschaepe was being portrayed as "evil incarnate, a murderer, a member of a murder gang, a Nazi bride or a Nazi killer" in a way that could prejudice the trial judges.
Her lawyers have said she will remain silent during the lengthy trial. Under German law Zschaepe won't have to make a plea until the end, though her lawyers have said they will contest the prosecution charges.
Frank Jordans contributed from Berlin. He can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter