BERLIN — A Berlin court today acquitted three former members of East Germany's ruling Politburo on manslaughter charges related to the killings of people trying to flee the now defunct communist state.
The trial of Hans-Joachim Boehme, Siegfried Lorenz and Herbert Haeber was expected to be the last major attempt by the united German authorities to punish the old regime's leaders for hundreds of deaths during the Berlin Wall's 28-year existence.
Prosecutors in the trial filed charges over four killings between 1984 and 1989.
They included that of Chris Gueffroy, the last victim of the shoot-to-kill policy.
Aged 20, he was gunned down on the Berlin Wall in February 1989, just 10 months before the Wall came down in the face of popular unrest.
Lorenz and Boehme were Politburo members from 1986 until the collapse of Communism in 1989, while Haeber served for a 14-month period ending in 1985.
Lawyers for Lorenz and Boehme, who ran the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) in the cities of Chemnitz and Halle, had argued that their clients were immune from prosecution because they were operating within the laws of a separate, independent state.
In January, the last Communist leader of East Germany, Egon Krenz, was jailed after his appeal against a conviction handed down in 1997 failed.
Krenz, who opened up the Berlin Wall in November 1989 in a bid to stave off pressure on the crumbling regime, is serving a 6 1/2-year term.
Two other Politburo members convicted with him were also jailed.