SUMMARY OF DIETER RIECHMANN’S CASE
At 10:32 p.m. on October 25, 1987, Miami Beach Police Officer Kelley Reid saw a red Thunderbird rental car stop at what she believed was a traffic light at Indian Creek Dr. and 67th St. She then noticed that driver was signaling for her. The driver was Dieter Riechmann. Officer Reid walked up to his car. As she approached, she heard him say, "Help me, my girl." When she looked inside the car, she found a woman sitting in the passenger front seat. The woman, Kersten Kischnick, had been shot once, on the right side of her head just behind and above her right ear.
Mr. Riechmann and Ms. Kischnick were German tourists who had been vacationing in America for nearly a month. They had traveled throughout the Southeast, but had recently returned to Miami to catch their flight back to Germany. They had been life-long companions for nearly 13 years. Ms. Kischnick worked as a prostitute in Germany where prostitution was and is legal.
On the evening of October 25, 1987, Mr. Riechmann and Ms. Kischnick had dinner at a Bayside restaurant in Miami. They shared twelve drinks during dinner. According to Mr. Riechmann, they got lost on their way back to their Miami Beach hotel. Mr. Riechmann decided to stop and ask someone on the street for directions. With the passenger side window lowered, Mr. Riechmann pulled the car up next to a black man to ask for directions. The man said just a moment, walked to another car, and then returned with something in his hand. Mr. Riechmann got scared. As hit the accelerator to leave, he heard an explosion. He soon realized that Kersten had been shot when he heard her making wheezing sounds. When he reached around to hold her head, he discovered that his hand was covered in blood.
Mr. Riechmann drove wildly through the streets of Miami looking for a police officer. When he finally found one in Miami Beach, he tried to relate his story in broken English. At 11:30 p.m., he was placed in a holding cell for several hours. When he was removed from the holding cell, he was told the police had made a mistake. The police then accompanied him to his hotel room where they seized three guns, shoes, his passport, and the blood-stained clothes he had worn in the car.
During the next four days, Mr. Riechmann was asked to retell his account over and over. He was driven around by police and asked if he could identify the spot where the shooting happened. He was unable to recognize the exact location, but said the area of 63rd and Biscayne Blvd. looked familiar. On October 29th, police secretly taped a four-to-five hour interview with Mr. Riechmann. At the conclusion of this interview, Mr. Riechmann was arrested by ATF agents on federal gun charges. The charges alleged that Mr. Riechmann had violated federal law when he purchased the guns that police seized from his hotel room. Mr. Riechmann remained in custody until his federal trial.
The federal gun charges went to trial December 27, 1987. At the end of the government’s case, the judge dismissed two of the three counts for lack of evidence. The jury acquitted Mr. Riechmann on the third charge. When Mr. Riechmann walked out of the federal courtroom on December 30th, Miami Beach detectives were waiting for him. He was arrested and charged with the murder of Ms. Kischnick.
The murder charges were prosecuted by Kevin DiGregory and Beth Sreenan of the Dade County State Attorney’s Office. A month-long trial began on July 13, 1988. Mr. Riechmann was represented by Edward Carhart.
The State’s case was based on three parts: First, the State introduced evidence that Mr. Riechmann was the beneficiary of several life insurance policies on Ms. Kischnick. The State argued that these policies gave Mr. Riechmann a motive. Second, the State introduced forensic evidence that it said implicated Mr. Riechmann. His hands showed traces of gunpowder residue (both of them in equal amounts, not the expected result unless two hands are used to fired the gun). After testing a blanket that was found in the car three times, State examiners finally got a positive result for the presence of presumptive blood on the blanket on which Mr. Riechmann was sitting at the time he asserted Ms. Kischnick was shot (although the defense contested not only the validity of the result, but also the probable contamination of the crime scene on the night of the shooting). And finally, the State relied on a jailhouse informant who not only claimed to be a former KGB agent, but also that Mr. Riechmann had made incriminating statements and had behaved in an incriminating fashion while they were incarcerated together. The glue that held the State’s case together was a vicious attack on Mr. Riechmann’s character because his girlfriend was a prostitute. This undermined his testimony when he was called to testify during the defense case.
After the jury returned a guilty verdict, a jubilant Beth Sreenan in a taped media interview expressed her surprise and pleasure at the verdict. The State then got a death recommendation from the jury. The judge imposed a sentence of death, and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence during Mr. Riechmann’s direct appeal to that court.
At a post-conviction hearing held in 1996, Mr. Riechmann’s collateral counsel presented two witnesses who had observed the shooting. According to these witnesses, the area where the shooting happened was frequented by drug dealers who waited for people to stop and make drug buys. They saw a car with two white occupants stop. And they saw a black man named Mark approach the car with a gun. They heard a shot as the car sped away. This was the same area Mr. Riechmann told police looked familiar.
The judge in 1996 did not overturn Mr. Riechmann’s conviction because he found these two witnesses not credible enough without more corroboration. The judge did find, however, that the original trial judge had engaged in improper ex parte communication with one of the prosecutors while imposing the death sentence and the prosecutors had improperly withheld 37 German witness statements from the defense. As a result, Mr. Riechmann’s death sentence was vacated, and a re-sentencing was ordered. On appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, the denial of a new trial and the decision granting a re-sentencing were both affirmed.
Meanwhile, a German journalist, Peter Mueller, began to investigate the case. On August 25, 1998, Mr. Mueller interviewed a person by the name of Mark Dugen. During the interview, Mr. Dugen described how a large rental car with two white occupants had stopped on 63rd Street, near Biscayne Blvd. Mr. Dugen was in the neighborhood selling drugs. Mr. Dugen assumed the occupants of the car wanted to purchase drugs, so he approached the car. He noticed that the occupants were wearing lots of jewelry. They "got like really nervous and got like really freaked out." Mr. Dugen decided to rob them. He pulled a gun out. He fired a shot and the car sped away. On December 10, 1998, Peter Mueller’s radio broadcast of the Dugen interview was published on German radio.
Mr. Mueller continued his investigation even after broadcasting Mr. Dugen’s confession to this murder. In 2000, he was able to locate the jailhouse informant who had claimed to be a former KGB agent, Walter Smykowski. In November of 2000, Mr. Mueller conducted a video interview of Mr. Smykowski in which Mr. Smykowski admitted that his testimony at Mr. Riechmann’s trial was false.
Thereafter, Mr. Mueller prepared a television documentary of his investigation of the Riechmann case. It was broadcast on German television.
Mr. Riechmann has filed a motion for a new trial relying in part upon the German radio and television broadcasts and the new information uncovered by Mr. Mueller.