Case is closed but the pain lives on as Heinrichs come to terms

Eighteen months after their son died, the Heinrichs are trying to move on

Wolfgang and Alexandra Heinrich outside the Central Criminal Court, Dublin, on Tuesday after Wesley Kelly (19) was jailed for six and a half years. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Wolfgang and Alexandra Heinrich outside the Central Criminal Court, Dublin, on Tuesday after Wesley Kelly (19) was jailed for six and a half years. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Sat, Jun 28, 2014, 01:00

When a murder trial ends the accused, if found guilty, goes to prison and the media moves on. But what about the victim’s family? For the parents of Thomas Heinrich, the 22-year-old German student stabbed to death in Rialto, Dublin, in December 2012, they face the challenge of making their lives go on, 18 months after their son’s ended.

Returning to Germany after Tuesday’s verdict the couple Wolfgang and Alexandra Thom Heinrich have sold their family home and, in a month’s time, start a new life abroad.

The last time they saw their son was during a “harmonious” weekend in Powerscourt in November 2012. Thomas talked excitedly about his foreign semester at Griffith College in Dublin and his plans for a career in the music business.

“He liked Dublin except for one thing: the aggressive young people and children where he lived,” said Mr Heinrich, a 65-year-old retired engineer. “When he saw the kids on his way home, he said he would pull up his hoodie and cross the street. One week later he was dragged into a row and . . .”

Thomas was one of about 50 German students from a Munich media college spending the autumn 2012 semester in Griffith College.

Early on the morning of December 1st, Thomas Heinrich and his flatmate Robert Rinker were on a balcony at a party in a Rialto flat when they became involved in a confrontation with passing teenagers.

In a later altercation on the street both men were stabbed. Mr Rinker was seriously injured and Thomas Heinrich died in hospital after sustaining stab wounds to the abdomen.

Convicted

Last Tuesday, a 17-year-old youth was convicted of murder for the attacks and given a nine-year sentence with two years suspended and 20-year-old Wesley Kelly received an eight-year sentence after being found guilty of assault causing harm, with the final 18 months suspended.

Throughout the past 18 months, the Heinrichs have refused to give in to bitterness.

At Griffith College this week, they presented the first scholarship established in their son’s memory. The couple speak of the “remarkable respect” they experienced from the college staff and the Irish media and describe as “world class” the closed area for victims at the criminal courts complex.

“The gardaí, liaison and victim support staff were exemplary towards us,” said Mr Heinrich. “We felt understood and listened to.”

But the couple still left Ireland with mixed feelings about a “very painful” brush with the Irish legal system that, unlike in Germany, does not allow victims’ families legal representation in the courtroom.

Victim’s voice

“We don’t want to sound vengeful but we felt that, in the Irish system, the victim has no value,” said Mr Heinrich.

“The DPP represents the State, the defence is allowed to present assumptions and hypotheses even if they contradict the facts.

“A trial like this takes little note of the victim.”

The Department of Justice points to efforts to accommodate victims in the legal system – from victim impact statements to a special commissioner – but says adding a third legal party could “impact on the even-handedness of the trial process and conflict with constitutional protections for procedural justice” in criminal cases.

Thomas Heinrich’s death has been particularly hard for his mother, Alexandra.

While her husband has a daughter and son from a previous marriage and is about to become a grandfather for the first time, she lost her only son.

“She has been robbed of her own flesh and blood which leaves her much more depressed – not clinically, but close,” said Mr Heinrich.

As he packs up his life in Germany and his son’s possessions, he remembers a young man whose strong social skills contrasted with his inability to manage his money or keep his room tidy.

A staunch pacifist, Thomas refused to do German military service and chose social service instead.

“Without complaining, a guy who hated to get up early would rise at 6am to help an old woman clean her apartment at 7 – that memory makes me proud,” said his father, whose business contacts with Ireland go back to the 1980s.

Now his family is linked to Ireland for a reason that, 18 months ago, they could never have imagined.

“We bear no ill will at all towards Ireland or the Irish,” said Mr Heinrich. “But, as a friend of Ireland for 30 years, I’m sad that its crime rate statistics don’t bode well for the future.”

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