German court rejects appeal of US airmen's killer
HEIDELBERG, Germany — The German Federal High Court has rejected an appeal by the Kosovo-born former airport worker who last year gunned down two U.S. Air Force airmen and injured two others, according to his lawyer.
That means that Arid Uka’s lower-court conviction of first-degree murder under aggravated circumstances and his sentence of life in prison will stand. According to German law, Uka will not be eligible for parole until after he’s served more than 15 years – probably considerably more, said his lawyer Jens Joerg Hoffmann.
Uka had just turned 22 when he was sentenced in February by a Frankfurt court for his shooting spree in March 2011 at Frankfurt Airport.
The former airport postal worker, described by prosecutors as a self-radicalized Islamist, opened fire on a group of Air Force policemen who had arrived at the airport from their base in England on the way to a deployment in Afghanistan.
Uka shot Senior Airman Nicholas Alden in the head as Alden stood outside a bus bound for Ramstein Air Base, then boarded the bus and shot Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, the driver. The two men, both in their 20s, died instantly, experts testified at Uka’s trial.
Uka continued to fire, as he walked down the bus aisle, saying, “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider was severely wounded with a bullet to the head that blinded him in one eye and left him with numerous neurological problems.
Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla also was wounded but told the court he’d recovered completely.
The shooting spree ended after Uka’s pistol jammed twice as he tried to shoot point-blank at Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer. Uka fled into the airport with Brewer in pursuit. Uka was arrested by airport police. Brewer was awarded a German medal for heroism as well as the Airman’s Medal.
Uka, a Kosovo Albanian reared in Frankfurt, confessed during his initial court appearance in August 2011. He said he’d been misled by Islamist propaganda on the Internet and was trying to prevent American troops from raping Afghan girls.
Uka’s attorneys tried to convince the judges at trial that Uka, because of his youth and emotional immaturity, should be eligible for parole after serving 15 years. That’s the standard in Germany for people given life sentences in verdicts that do not include findings of “severe guilt” or aggravated circumstances.
Germany does not impose death sentences or sentences of life without the possibility of parole.
Hoffmann said he’d made the same point in his appeal.
“I have great problems with the fact that he was just 21,” the lawyer said.
In about a decade, another court will set the date Uka could be paroled, Hoffmann said, based on prison and psychological reports.
That court would likely decide on a sentence of somewhere between 18 and 30 years, Hoffmann said.
In February at the trial’s conclusion, relatives of the two slain airmen said that they were satisfied with the verdict and sentence.
“I think justice was served,” Joe Alden, Nicholas’ brother, said. “I think he got what he deserved.”
Robert Cuddeback, Zachary Cuddeback’s father, had hoped the U.S. would extradite Uka and try him in federal court, where he would have faced a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
“I know he received the longest sentence Germany allows,” Cuddeback said in February. “It won’t bring Zack or Nick back. Nothing will.”
Uka will serve his sentence at Germany’s sole prison for long-term inmates, Hoffmann said, in Schwalmstadt, located in the German state of Hesse.