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Jail sentence for Eritrean who pushed woman on track

The district court has sentenced a paranoid man to 5 years and 10 months in prison for attempted murder and other offenses.

The woman was pushed onto a platform in Zurich Central Station.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

On May 7, 2021, a 41-year-old doctor, who was waiting for a train on a platform in Zurich main station with three bags slung over her shoulder, was unexpectedly pushed onto the platform by a stranger, an Eritrean. The train slowly entering the dead-end station was still about 50 meters away. According to the indictment, the man pushed the woman, who was looking at her mobile phone, from behind with both hands against the back with great force. The woman fell “on all fours” onto the track. She only suffered abrasions from the fall, was able to get up with the presence of mind and climb back onto the platform in good time.

The 28-year-old must now answer for the crime before the Zurich District Court. In the main dossier, public prosecutor Ulrich Krättli charged with attempted murder. The accused are accused of a number of other offenses. He is said to have caused an apartment fire in March 2021 with an improperly extinguished cigarette. In February 2021, he verbally abused Lucerne police officers, told them to give him their pistols so he could shoot them, and resisted arrest.

Catholic mass disrupted

In June 2021, he is said to have spat on a Zurich canton police officer in the psychiatric university clinic and injured his head. He regularly rode the train without a ticket, and in February 2020 he is said to have disturbed the freedom of worship and belief in the Catholic Church in Gersau: During the service of a deacon, the man, who called himself a Christian in court, ran to the altar and blew two Candles and shouted “This church devil, this church evil” and the like into the microphone. He threw a candlestick off the altar, ripped off the microphone and threw it at a sacristan. Before leaving the church, he spoke of lighting it.

The Eritrean is currently in a psychiatric clinic in the early start of a requested inpatient therapy. According to a psychiatric report, he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder due to his past as a child soldier in Eritrea.

In the courtroom, he admits that he pushed the woman onto the track. Why, he doesn’t know. “I really don’t know, I only know that my health was very bad,” the interpreter translates a corresponding question from the court chairman Sebastian Aeppli. In the investigation, the 28-year-old said he did it “out of stress and frustration”.

He admits some of the crimes he was accused of, but not others, and he cannot remember many of them. He said he had nothing to do with the fire in his apartment. Since he has been in the psychiatric clinic, he has felt better. He wants to continue therapy. He did all the deeds when he was ill. Under no circumstances did he want to be expelled from the country. “There’s no way I can go back to Eritrea,” explains the accused, “I’ll be killed.” If the court pronounces a requested expulsion from the country for 8 years, that will also be his death sentence.

“The woman simply served to relieve his frustration”

In addition to inpatient therapy and expulsion from the country, prosecutor Krättli requests a prison sentence of 5 years and 9 months, taking into account a severe reduction in criminal responsibility attested by the court psychiatrist. In the investigation, the accused said: “I have nothing against this woman, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The victim was not seriously injured or killed due to luck and her own ability to react. The woman was on the track for a total of four seconds, 14.5 meters from the buffer stop. The train was still driving at 10 to 27 km/h. The motive remains unclear. The woman apparently “simply served the accused to reduce his frustration”.

Attorney Christoph Erdös, who represents the interests of the doctor, speaks of “sheer horror” for the woman and requests compensation of 10,000 francs. The doctor had several guardian angels who would have saved her life. He even describes the act as a “terrorist act”. There are definitely political motives on the part of the accused. He had the intention of triggering fear and terror in the population and wanted to show that the population in Switzerland could not feel safe either.

Defender Oliver Gloor defends himself against the qualification of attempted killing and wants to see the Eritrean convicted of the main charge of simple bodily harm. He is seeking a total of 7 months in prison, or 26 months if he is convicted of attempted murder. A country expulsion should be refrained from. There is danger to life. However, the accused recognizes the 10,000 francs of satisfaction.

The Eritrean had no intention of killing the woman. He didn’t even see the train coming in. Objectively there was no danger to life either. The woman left the track so quickly that no emergency braking was necessary. The two locomotive drivers present in the driver’s cab also saw the woman in good time. The slowly arriving train was brought to a standstill by normal braking. The engine driver did not even have to increase the braking that had been initiated.

His client was in a psychotic phase and had no connection to reality. “He was simply not capable of judgement.” It must have been an illness-driven impulse act. The threshold for attempting a deliberate homicide had not been crossed.

The defense attorney is demanding a reduction in sentence because of the “dramatic past life” of the accused. He was arrested by the government in Eritrea at the age of 11 and spent two years in prison. He never found out why. At the age of 13 he was forcibly recruited as a child soldier. In one incident, some of his comrades were simply shot. To this day he doesn’t know why. He suffered a severe brain contusion in an accident. He was finally able to escape from the military, hide and leave the country. He entered Switzerland in 2015 and received asylum here.

Accused must have seen the train

In the evening, the district court sentenced the man to 5 years and 10 months in prison and an unconditional fine of 35 daily rates for attempted murder, causing a conflagration, multiple acts of violence and threats against authorities and officials, disruption of religious freedom and freedom of worship and other criminal offenses 10 francs and 200 francs fine. The prison sentence is suspended in favor of the inpatient measure and expulsion from the country for 8 years. The doctor receives 10,000 francs in satisfaction.

As the presiding judge Sebastian Aeppli explains, the offense of attempted intentional homicide is fulfilled. The probability of the woman’s death was still given. The court assumes a residual speed of the train of 10 km/h. The woman lay on the track for several seconds. If the two engine drivers hadn’t noticed her and if she hadn’t been able to climb back onto the platform herself, she would have been hit by the train and most likely killed.

Due to the noise and the large number of people on the platform, the accused noticed that a train was arriving. This is also supported by the fact that he pushed the woman onto the track immediately before the train arrived. However, no terrorist motive can be identified from his statements. A sentence of 16 years would actually have been appropriate for the intentional killing, according to Aeppli. When assessing the sentence, the court deducted the severe reduction in criminal responsibility, the contingent intent and the attempt, so that it finally ended up with 5 years for this accusation alone. In addition, the penalties for other offenses were increased.

When expelled from the country, the court saw no case of hardship. The accused only came to Switzerland at the age of 22, was not economically integrated and had two previous convictions. Almost his entire family lives in Eritrea. It will be a few more years before he is released. Only then does the law enforcement agency have to check whether the situation in Eritrea allows deportation.

Judgment DG220118 of November 9th, 2022, not yet final.

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