Monica Seles said Wednesday that she was "shocked and horrified" because the man convicted of stabbing her in the back during a tennis match at Hamburg, Germany, was given only 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 39-year-old Guenter Parche 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 once 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 was announced, 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, who did not testify, said they probably are going to appeal the verdict. Seles' attorney, Gerhard Strate, argued unsuccessfully 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 psychiatric evaluation.
Several U.S. legal experts contacted Wednesday said that Parche would have received jail time if he had been tried in the United States. Stanley Goldman of Loyola Law School said he could have been given a seven-year sentence in California.
"The idea that somebody would just walk (free) 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.
Pam Shriver, president of the Women's Tennis Assn., said this morning from a tournament in Filderstadt, Germany, that she hopes Seles is wrong about the potential for further violence against athletes.
"That's a horrible thought," Shriver said. "Obviously, it crosses your mind, yes. But do players honestly think it will happen again? Not really. It's a random act of a crazy man. Let's face it, if we didn't feel that way, it would be very unpleasant doing your job."
The sentence angered Martina Navratilova, who was also in Filderstadt.
"You guys need some serious help with the laws here in Germany," Navratilova said. "Forget the fact it was Monica Seles, it cost her millions of dollars and it was done on television. 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."
To Frances Olson, a UCLA professor of law and senior Fulbright professor in Germany in 1991-92, the sentence was not surprising.
"It's part of a pattern and practice of German courts being shockingly lenient in dealing with cases of nationalistic violence, and especially violence against women," she said. "Over the past two years, the pattern of governmental encouragement has led to an increase of such acts of violence, especially against anyone the Germans refer to as a foreigner."
Detlev Vagts of Harvard Law School said prison sentences in Europe tend to be considerably less than in the United States and probation for Parche would not be out of line if he had no previous convictions.
Vagts said the judge's ruling seemed logical considering the evidence of mental disability.
"If he was really a cold-blooded killer, he would have picked a place (not as public as a tennis tournament)" to attack Seles.
Bosse 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.
The psychiatrist, Wolfgang Pinski, said Parche was obsessed with Graf.
"For him, Steffi Graf was someone other-worldly," Pinski said. "The Pope and the President of the United States were on one level, then above them was Steffi Graf."
Pinski said Parche was introverted, withdrawn, insecure and had "no sexual life." Pinski testified Parche was "a droll, eccentric loner, a complete gray mouse, who perhaps would have never gained attention if his special problem with Steffi Graf did not exist."
Times Staff Writers Elliott Almond in Los Angeles and Dean Murphy in Bonn, Germany, contributed to this story.