Monica Seles said yesterday that she was "shocked and horrified" because the man convicted of stabbing her in the back during a tennis match in Hamburg, Germany, was given a two-year suspended sentence.
Seles, who called her assailant an "assassin," said in a statement after the verdict was handed down by Hamburg District Court Judge Elke Bosse that the suspended sentence given Guenter Parche, 39, sends a wrong signal.
"What kind of message does this send to the world?" Seles said. "Mr. Parche has admitted that he stalked me, then he stabbed me once . . . [and] now the court has said he does not have to go to jail for his premeditated crime. He gets to go back to his life, but I can't because I am still recovering from this attack, which could have killed me."
Parche, a lathe operator who quit his job and wandered around Germany mourning tennis losses by Steffi Graf, came out of the stands and stabbed Seles in the back with a kitchen knife as she sat on the court during a changeover in a match in the German Open on April 30.
Parche testified he did not mean to kill Seles, but wanted to disable her long enough so that Graf would regain the No. 1 ranking, which she did. Seles has not played since the attack. She has dropped to No. 4 in the rankings and isn't sure when she will be able to play again.
After the verdict, Parche was freed. But he decided to spend the night in jail because he feared retaliation for the sentence, according to German television. In the two-day trial, Parche was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm. The prosecutor was seeking a two-year, nine-month sentence for Parche, who spent six months in jail.
Attorneys representing Seles said they probably will appeal the verdict. Seles' attorney, Gerhard Strate, argued that Parche be tried for attempted murder.
Graf said she could not understand the sentence. "How can a man, who . . . endangered someone's life be allowed by the court to go free?"
Conditions of Parche's probation were not revealed, but legal experts speculated it stipulated some sort of psychiatric evaluation.
Several U.S. legal experts contacted yesterday said Parche would have received jail time if he had been tried in the United States. Stanley Goldman of the Loyola Law School said he could have been given a seven-year sentence in California.
"The idea that somebody would just walk on a case like this would seem highly unlikely," he said.
Seles is at her home in Florida while recovering from a 1 1/2 -inch stab wound, according to management firm IMG, which disclosed the depth of the wound for the first time.
"I fear for my fellow athletes, public figures and other potential victims of senseless crimes who have to go out today and tomorrow knowing that a criminal who commits such an act will not be punished," Seles said.
In a joint statement, Pam Shriver, president of the Women's Tennis Association, and Gerard Smith, executive director and chief executive officer of the WTA, called the sentence "deplorable and shocking."
"We consider it outrageous that someone could commit a premeditated attack, inflict bodily harm and essentially get away with it," the statement said. "This man viciously attacked Monica in a life-threatening manner and has escaped punishment. The players and the entire tennis community are in shock."
The sentence angered Martina Navratilova, who was also in Filderstadt. "You guys need some serious help with the laws here in Germany," Navratilova said. "When one human being can stab another with the intent of seriously injuring her and they walk away, then there is something wrong with the law."
Bosse said she took into account testimony from a psychiatrist who examined Parche in custody and told the court that Parche had a "highly abnormal personality" that might have affected his ability to reason.