The Armenian assassin of the ex-Ottoman Grand Vizier Talat Pasha, Soghomon Tehlirian was acquitted of murder in his trial. His defence was that he was killing Talat Pasha in retaliation for his crimes in orchestrating the Ottoman Armenian Genocide.

Tehlirian was tried for murder, but was eventually acquitted by the twelve-man jury. His trial was a rather sensationalized event at the time, taking place shortly after the establishment of the Weimar Republic, with Tehlirian being represented by three German defense attorneys, including Dr. Theodor Niemeyer, professor of law at Kiel University. Priest and Armenian Genocide survivor Grigoris Balakian, German activist Johannes Lepsius, and German commander of the Ottoman armed forces during the war General Liman von Sanders were among several of the prominent individuals called as witnesses to the trial.

The trial examined not only Tehlirian’s actions but also Tehlirian's conviction that Talât was the main author of the Armenian deportation and mass killings. The defense attorneys made no attempt to deny the fact that Tehlirian had killed a man, and instead focused on the influence of the Armenian Genocide on Tehlirian's mental state. Tehlirian claimed during the trial that he had been present in Erzincan in 1915 and had been deported along with his family and personally witnessed their murder. When asked by the judge if he felt any sort of guilt, Tehlirian remarked, "I do not consider myself guilty because my conscience is clear…I have killed a man. But I am not a murderer.

However, murder in retaliation for crimes the victim committed is often not considered a legal defence to the act of murder. For example, this 2013 Baltimore case resulted in the sentencing of the killer to 30 years in jail.

Similarly, the Lillehammer affair involves Israeli Mossad agents sent to assassinate a (mistakenly identified) mastermind of the Munich attacks on Israelis. The agents were arrested and convicted by Norwegian authorities.

A final example was the case of Vitaly Kaloyev, who stabbed to death the air traffic controller responsible for the Überlingen mid-air collision in which his family was killed. He was also convicted for murder in that case and sentenced to prison.

What differences in law in that time in Germany led to the acquittal of Soghomon Tehlirian for murder?

  • Nice question. What was the accusation? Was the verdict unanimous? Did the jury have final say in the verdict or could it be overruled by a judge?
    – PatrickT
    Mar 19, 2021 at 6:31

1 Answer 1


See . I'm not a legal historian, so I can't say for sure what the laws on jury acquittals were at that time in that jurisdiction. However, when a jury has final discretion to acquit a defendant of a crime that's it: They can effectively ignore laws if they want to acquit someone. Such acquittals do not set a precedent or have any bearing outside of the trial in which they issue their verdict.

  • 2
    Also, jury deliberations are confidential so only the jury knows why they decided the way they decided.
    – Dale M
    Oct 25, 2015 at 23:35
  • Can you show that this was the case for Weimar Germany courts? Jury nullification sounds like a plausible reason, but it could also be some other reason that got him acquitted.
    – March Ho
    Oct 26, 2015 at 1:55
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    @MarchHo - Yes, could be something else. As DaleM suggested: at best this is a history question. There is probably a transcript of the trial, and given the attention to the matter I would imagine there is a lot of ex post analysis of the trial and acquittal that would be more illuminating than anything a general expert in Weimar German law (if such exists) might say. Maybe History can help you track down primary and contemporary sources on the question.
    – feetwet
    Oct 26, 2015 at 4:34
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    The wikipedia page (no idea how accurate the information is) states that the murderer was acquitted on the grounds of "temporary insanity caused by the trauma of the genocide". (It also states that he'd been selected by the secret services to commit the murder)
    – PatrickT
    Mar 19, 2021 at 6:48

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