The trial of a 58-year-old truck driver who is accused of firing more than 700 shots at other vehicles on German highways over five years began today in the northern Bavarian city of Wuerzburg.
The man, who German media say was born in the former East Germany, was arrested at home in the small town of Kall in western Germany in June 2013. He is being identified by the German media only by his first names and last initial Michael Harry K. in accordance with German laws.
He was briefly shown in the courtroom by German network N-TV as his trial began; a mustached brown-haired man wearing an earring and looking rather grim as the judges arrived.
The shooting incidents that mostly took place on highways in western and southern Germany resulted in only one serious injury: a 40-year-old businesswoman who was struck in the neck and crashed off the side of the road near the city where the defendant is now on trial. She survived.
Prosecutors describe the defendant as a "frustrated loner" who they said talked about his "war on German Autobahns" or highways. Michael Harry K., in several interviews with German media, claimed he only targeted cargo sections of vehicles.
German authorities were lambasted for not catching him sooner. But some critics now question whether police went too far in the steps they took to apprehend him.
At issue is whether investigators violated Germany's strict data-protection laws by checking GPS signals of drivers who were on specific highways when and where the attacks occurred, then matching up those signals to photographs taken by specially installed cameras on those highways.
The question may come up at trial, though the main goal of the three-judge panel at this stage is to determine whether the defendant should face attempted murder charges.