In the photo they are still looking happy. A father receives his wife and children from Eritrea at Schiphol. He dressed up in a suit, she with a bunch of red roses, their son and daughter are excitedly looking into the camera. But five months after the reunion, there is no family left. A future together became history. The mother is dead and the father is on trial. For partner murder.
Mussie’s name is the father, he is a shadow of the man in the photo. He sits huddled across from the court, his face hidden behind curly black hair and a wild beard. Immediately that day he called his counselor at the Refugee Work: “I killed my wife.” Even now he confesses through an interpreter that he stabbed his 32-year-old wife with a knife. “On a whim, not on purpose. I don’t recognize myself in what I’ve done. ”
What preceded this, the chairman of the suspect wants to know. The father was known in the Frisian village as a friendly and balanced person. Neighbors overheard the suspect and his wife arguing. She had hit him, he hit back, the children were sent out to play. Why did he suddenly get so angry that he snatched a knife from the counter and stabbed his wife ten times in the kitchen?
Silence. Tears. “I am not in a state to tell about it. In Eritrea you don’t talk about the dead. ”
The client does not intend to declare as long as recordings are made at the request of the guardianship institution, his lawyer says. The children of today eight and ten years can listen to them when they are older. They are housed together with a foster family. Their father has been released from parental authority.
Can someone, the chairman gestures, turn off the recording equipment? According to the suspect, the argument was about a visit to the doctor, according to the children their parents argued about money and a telephone. And yes, says the chairman, a blue telephone was found in the garden, too burnt to be able to read it. What did it say?
But the suspect does not say anything about the circumstances – not even to psychiatric researchers who could not find a disorder and consider him fully accountable. Only the counselor of the Dutch Council for Refugees, called as a witness by the lawyer, sheds some light on the case. She talks about the difficult reunification that only got off the ground after years and the high expectations. “She expected a nice villa, a private car, a high income. But he only had benefits and a rented house, not even a driver’s license. And then she became disdainful. ”
Did that clash with Mussie’s ideas about marriage? Neither the police nor the court delved into the cultural side of the case.
For manslaughter, the public prosecutor demands ten years in prison and 20,000 euros in pain for each of the children. “They didn’t speak the language and lost their mother overnight. In a way, the defendant also took their lives. ” The stabbing to death happened on a whim, she emphasizes, for murder there is no convincing evidence.
This is not a cold-blooded killer, the lawyer nods. On the contrary: “Had there been calm and quiet deliberation, this would never have happened.” Counsel regrets that the motive has not become clear, but at the same time hopes that the court will ‘show leniency’ with regard to the penalty. “Cultural differences and stress have led to an explosion of violence. Client is first offender. He fled Eritrea as a deserter. As soon as he is released he has to go back. ”
The court follows the officer’s demand. Mussie is sentenced to ten years in prison for manslaughter and must pay his children 20,000 euros each. “There was excessive violence. It cannot be otherwise than that the suspect acted in a frenzy. ” At the same time, the judges heavily blame the suspect for “not wanting to provide insight into the background of his act. This could have helped the next of kin “to cope with their irreparable suffering.”
Mussie acquiesces in his sentence, let his lawyer know, he thinks he has earned those ten years in prison. What awaits him next in Eritrea is uncertain.