Shock as Seles's attacker stays free

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The Independent Online
The man who stabbed Monica Seles walked free after a Hamburg court yesterday upheld a previous judgment, giving him only a suspended sentence.

Gnther Parche attacked Seles, who was then the world No 1, at a tournament in Hamburg in April 1993. When he was given a two-year suspended sentence, there was widespread indignation that he had got off so lightly.

In her first reaction to yesterday's ruling, Seles, who lives in Sarasota, Florida, issued a one-sentence statement through IMG, her management firm. "I am as surprised as everyone else, and I just don't understand this," she said.

Seles has not played since the attack and she has often referred to her sense of insecurity about returning to the court with Parche still a free man. She said at the weekend she did not know if she would return to the women's tour. "I love tennis, but right now I don't know the answer to that question. I hope I can overcome this and go back to something I love to do," Seles said but she stressed her decision to return did not depend on the outcome of the trial.

Steffi Graf, Parche's idol, was the reason that he gave for attacking Seles. But Graf complained, after the first judgment: "The rest of the world can again only shake its head, when it looks at us." Martina Navratilova suggested caustically that Germans "need some help with their laws."

In upholding the earlier judgment, the court yesterday emphasised the "abnormal personality make-up" of Parche, a 41-year-old unemployed lathe operator from eastern Germany. One of the detectives who had interrogated Parche told the court: "It was obvious to us all that the man belonged with a doctor and not in jail." That was not the view shared by Seles herself, who had argued: "He can return to his ordinary life, while I cannot."

Yesterday's judgment was immediately criticised. The president of the German tennis federation, Claus Stauder, said that it should have been "much tougher", in order to be "a stronger deterrent."

Seles, now 21, is still receiving psychiatric counselling, for post-traumatic stress disorder. Her psychiatrist testified that she still has difficulty with many ordinary daily tasks.

In an interview with the mass-circulation Bild am Sonntag at the weekend, her father, Karolj, implied that his daughter would still like to return to world tennis. "She is probably standing with her partner on a tennis court at this moment. . . Monica loves tennis above everything else. . . We are working hard towards her return." But, he acknowledged: "Some days it just doesn't work. Her thoughts about the attack come back." According to Bild am Sonntag, Seles sometimes trains at a "secret location on the American West Coast."

Her father told Bild am Sonntag: "She is frightened that, when she plays, she will be overcome by thoughts about the attack. She is afraid of sitting on the bench with her back to the public." Seles had been sitting at the edge of the court, when Parche jumped over a spectator barrier and stabbed her in the back. Karolj Seles said that his daughter does not watch international tennis on television. "Every time that she sees Steffi and the others, she starts to cry."

The judge, Gertraut Gring, in explaining yesterday's judgment, said: "Our law does not operate on the principle of `an eye for an eye'." Ms Gring insisted that a tougher sentence was "not justified".

The court yesterday concluded that it was impossible to show that Parche had intended to kill Seles. During the trial, the judge had noted: "What worries me, Mr Parche, is this long knife. It is very long. I would have been hellishly frightened to stab somebody with this knife. . . Weren't you afraid? Didn't you think: `She might die on me'? Didn't you think that?"

Finally, however, it seemed the judge herself drew a different conclusion than the tone of her questioning had suggested, and accepted the defence argument that Parche had not intended to kill Seles, only to put her temporarily out of action, so that his adored Steffi Graf ("Stephanie", as he always described her) could regain the world No 1 spot. The court also noted in Parche's favour the fact that he had no criminal record, and the fact that he had made a "full confession". Sceptics might note that he had little choice, in this regard, given that the entire drama was played out in very public view.

Theoretically, yesterday's judgment could yet again go to appeal, in a higher court. It was unclear yesterday whether the prosecution - which consists of two separate strands, the state prosecutor and the prosecutor on behalf of Seles herself - would press on with a second appeal.