German who flew to Moscow faces prospect of prison at home

April 16, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- Carefully and quietly, Mathias Rust told the judge about how he flew his light airplane under Soviet radar to Moscow and how he eventually landed it on Red Square, right under the noses of the Soviet leaders in the Kremlin.

But then the 23-year-old's memory began to fail. Had he two years later thrust a knife twice into the belly of a nurse who refused to kiss him? The packed courtroom was silent. Rust spoke softly and vaguely.

"I must have stabbed but can't remember. I somehow had a blackout," he said.

Whether a blackout or a brutal attack, Rust's fortunes have tumbled badly since he buzzed Red Square in 1987. Then he was the darling of the West and made such a mockery of the Soviet air defense that its commander and the nation's defense minister lost their jobs.

Now he stands accused of attempted murder and could face life in prison. He has pleaded guilty with extenuating circumstances.

After returning from Moscow, where he served one year of a four-year sentence, Rust picked up a seemingly normal life. At 21 he began his two-year civilian service, which is an alternative to Germany's mandatory military service. He was assigned to work as an orderly in a hospital.

Police say he entered a hospital changing room where the nurse, identified only as Stefanie W., was at her locker. He closed the door, walked up behind her and tried to kiss her. She resisted and he drew back, opening the door as if to leave.

Police say Rust suddenly wheeled around and stabbed her twice in the abdomen. He then fled, leaving Stefanie bleeding on the floor. He surrendered two hours later.

Rust's family posted $60,000 bond several months later, and he was set free pending the outcome of the trial.

Stefanie required an emergency operation to save her life. In a separate civil lawsuit she has sued Rust for continuing psychological and physical damages.

The question the court grappled with yesterday is whether Rust should have a milder punishment because of possible mental instability. Rust's attorneys say yes and ordered a psychological test to try to prove his mental instability. The results have not been made public.

State Attorney Ruediger Barger said that he has seen the test outcome and that it shows nothing that would exempt Rust from a full sentence.

"The opinion, which we didn't request because we didn't think it necessary but which was given anyway, does not show any clear reason for him not to face the consequences," Mr. Barger said.

Rust's attorneys said he should at most be sentenced for involuntary manslaughter, which carries three years. They pointed to his Moscow flight as an example of his unpredictable, eccentric behavior.

Although portrayed as a free-wheeling daredevil, Rust seems to have been quite different. His mother, Monika Rust, said after he landed in Moscow that her son has never been easy to understand.

"Mathias was a special child, one who always was different from the others," she said.

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